Thursday, May 14, 2020

Maritime Unions Welcome Extension of National Minimum Wage to UK Seafarers

Still More Progress to be Made on Extended International Links
Shipping News Feature

UK – Maritime union RMT welcomed the publication of legislation to extend the National Minimum Wage to cover all seafarers working on merchant ships on domestic routes, regardless of where the ship is registered, something it had been calling for some time. General Secretary, Mick Cash however did not sound as happy as one might expect, saying:

“We welcome this but it is a small victory in the scheme of things. The legislation will secure an enforceable legal baseline, currently £8.21 per hour for seafarer pay on domestic ferry, offshore supply and cargo routes between UK ports and the UK continental shelf which is long overdue. It will not however affect international routes from UK ports, for example from the UK to the European mainland, where operators have been paying foreign seafarers as little as £2 per hour for years.

”Some operators, like P&O even see Covid-19 as their chance to permanently replace UK Ratings with cheaper crews from thousands of miles away on pay below the minimum wage. We need a plan that responds to the problems our economy and society face from Covid-19 fall out, rather than to the short term interests of shipping companies and their debt-ridden owners.”

The reaction from the Nautilus International union, which represents maritime professionals, was more positive. It is claiming the amendment to the existing National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order to remove the exclusion to seafarers, as a victory for its own Charter for Jobs campaign. It sees the move as representing a significant step towards eradicating social dumping, the practice whereby employers exploit a disparity in wages between countries to use cheap labour, resulting in a race to the bottom.

The amendment was laid in Parliament on 6 May and is a draft Affirmative Order, subject to Privy Council clearance. If the amendment is adopted, it will mean that Nautilus will have succeeded in achieving one the most important points on its Charter for Jobs, to apply the National Minimum Wage (and the National Living Wage) to all vessels engaged in UK waters.

Nautilus has called for minimum conditions to apply to all seafarers in UK waters for almost 20 years, as part of a lengthy campaign to secure the support of the Chamber of Shipping for a collective approach for a solution to the problem of the exploitation of foreign seafarers. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson applauded the move, saying:

“This is a major triumph for our lobbying of government and should be welcomed, as it puts a floor in the wages of all seafarers in UK waters, including on port voyages on the UK continental shelf, and will help protect UK seafarer jobs. It completes a pledge set out in Maritime 2050.

“This development will maximise the employment of British seafarers in the UK, especially in coastal shipping; passenger and freight ferry services; offshore windfarms; offshore oil and gas exploration and decommissioning, representing a real victory for the industry.”

In 2016, after the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union, Nautilus launched the 10-point Charter for Jobs, as an 'SOS' to the government, and which set out 10 key objectives to secure the future of the maritime sector post-Brexit and ensure the government delivers for UK seafarers.

The union has continued to raise these issues with successive administrations until a legal working group was set up in 2017 to investigate the possibility of extending the minimum wage to all vessels in UK waters. That working group, which included the maritime unions and the Chamber of Shipping, eventually proposed a solution that led to the government's maritime strategy, Maritime 2050, including a firm commitment to extend the UK National Minimum Wage to all seafarers in UK waters.

In the field of international road haulage arguments rage cross the European Union regarding whether drivers travelling in foreign states must be paid the same rates equivalent to the current minimum wage of every country as they travel through, so as not to discriminate against local workers.

In the maritime trade the situation is much more complex and difficult to enforce with ships often flagged in states hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, with very limited possibilities to ascertain the true levels of pay. The main complaints of the unions however refer to the pay levels on trades such as the cross channel services and the RoRo ferries trading with such as the Channel Isles, and would therefore be somewhat easier to police.

Photo: P&O Ferries has come in for criticism for its policies from the GMB Union which demanded the company be nationalised earlier this month. Since that P&O has announced 1,100 job cuts.