Monday, October 22, 2018

Maritime Professionals Union Protests Against Slavery at Sea in All its Forms

Scourge of Rogue Employers Continues Along the Logistics Supply Chain
Shipping News Feature
UK – WORLDWIDE – There is of course nothing whatsoever 'modern' about slavery. That two-word term has however entered the vernacular promoted by the improvements in communication which often illustrate to the public the appalling conditions under which many people are forced to work, many of them children, and usually considered a situation which exists solely in the third world. When the industries concerned are landlocked they can more easily come under the public gaze, but now maritime union Nautilus International has highlighted a problem it insists exists on British waterways and along the UK's wider supply chain.

The statement from the union, which represents more than 22,000 maritime professionals follows the launch of the government’s new campaign to tackle modern slavery on last week’s International Anti-Slavery Day. The new Home Office campaign will require some of the UK’s biggest businesses to publish annual transparency statements, setting out what they are doing to stop modern slavery and forced labour practices occurring in their business and wider supply chains.

Earlier this year the government cracked down on wages paid to crews whilst in British waters and is also reviewing whether laws should be further strengthened to ensure companies stamp out the use of forced labour in supply chains at home and abroad, and Nautilus’s claim coincided with its appearance at the ITF Congress in Singapore last week, where it called for an increase to the international minimum wage for seafarers which it claims sees maritime professionals earn as little as £2.12 an hour.

Obviously the entire logistics sector covers the movement of all consumer goods and, focusing on modern slavery, the seafood sector for example has an appalling track record in this regard. Thai businesses across all sectors where physical labour is required have of late been making use of Burmese and Cambodian migrants who work for even lower rates than native workers. Many who enter the prawn farming and harvesting industry have been shown to have suffered appalling abuses, often trapped on board for years at a time.

In 2014 the Guardian newspaper undertook an in depth investigation into the trade, the same year the US State Department published its ‘Trafficking in Persons’ report, both finding workers trafficked by local fishermen and forced to work for little pay and unable to leave their employers. This year it was confirmed by Human Rights Watch that although the Thai government had made reforms, it said these were ‘a theatrical exercise for international consumption’ despite efforts from the Seafood Task Force. This situation was highlighted by Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy in the House of Commons last week who said the situation was ‘horrific’.

Much of the Thai prawn harvest finds its way onto UK supermarket shelves, but the problems of slavery are much more widespread, both in terms of industry and geography. Gateshead MP Ian Means highlighted that the problem in the maritime industry is much closer to home, with some ships working in and out of British ports employing migrant labour, often illegally, and paying as little as $400 or $500 a month to crew members.

Ms. McCarthy said she had been talking to Nautilus International about cases where seafarers have been exploited and noted there have also been particular problems in the offshore oil sector. She highlighted that supermarkets should ‘engage constructively’ with unions like Nautilus ‘that are working to ensure real living wages, root out bad practices and provide a route for whistleblowers’. Nautilus general secretary, Mark Dickinson, commented:

“We’re glad the Government has listened to our calls and is now highlighting the issue of modern day slavery, which is very much alive and kicking in the maritime industry and wider supply chain. Despite this, there remains a lot of work to do to ensure we stamp it out. With seafarers leaving their families for months on an end to deliver our own home comforts, we think they deserve to be paid more than £2.12 an hour.

That’s why we’re at the ITF Congress in Singapore, to campaign governments and the industry across the world to increase seafarers’ minimum wage of $614 a month for a 48-hour week by $50. If successful, this will help ease the burden of seafarers and their families on a global level, whilst protecting the UK’s maritime resilience domestically, and our seafarers which we depend so much upon.”

Photo: A demonstration last year outside Dunfermline City Chambers accusing a ferry company of paying Lithuanian crews as little as £1.64 per hour (a claim strenuously denied).