Monday, July 9, 2012

Nautilus Maritime Union Wins Battle For UK Shipping Standards

Government Promises Level Playing Field for Employees
Shipping News Feature

UK – The disparity in wages which exists between workers of different nationalities can be a bone of contention in various industries but none more so than in the field of shipping where by its very nature the workforces of various cultures can become interchangeable. Now the union, Nautilus International, which represents 24,000 sea and shore based maritime professionals working in every facet of the industry from freight and container ships to fishing vessels and harbourmasters, has welcomed UK government moves to crack down on the employment of foreign seafarers around the country’s coastline.

Nautilus has urged the government to ensure that work permit requirements are applied for all foreign seafarers working on ships trading between UK ports, irrespective of the vessel’s flag. It argues that to prevent pay and conditions in the sector from being undermined it is essential to enforce Tier 2 requirements of the Points-Based System for work permit authorisation.

This would ensure that the jobs would either have to be on the UK occupational shortage list or that the employer/shipowner satisfies the labour market test by advertising the jobs at the local rate of pay for such jobs, before employing non-EEA nationals. Applying these criteria should then help to maintain seafaring standards in UK waters.

Following protests by the Union over a recent case in which a company employing non-EEA seafarers sought to bid for the contract to run ferry services between the Scottish mainland and the northern isles, Nautilus has now secured assurances from the Home Office that the work permit rules are being ‘consistently and robustly applied’. The Home Office said it has determined that the work permit requirements can be applied to ships flying the flags of other EU member states and operating on island cabotage routes. Revised operational instructions clarifying the situation are likely to be issued later this year, Nautilus has been told leading General secretary Mark Dickinson to comment:

“This is a very welcome response and it is a victory for common sense. In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of foreign seafarers working within UK waters on pay rates well below the National Minimum Wage and on inferior conditions. Shipping is a highly globalised industry with a very international workforce, but these trends have raised fundamental legal and ethical questions about the employment and pay practices on vessels working around the UK coast.

“Ending the confusion over the application of the rules should provide some much-needed safeguards against unfair competition and exploitation in British waters and should therefore be some comfort to members working in the lifeline ferry services, such as those operated by Caledonian MacBrayne and Serco Ferries.”

The union has lately been battling government contract specialist Serco after the company cut officers pension benefits following the takeover of the Northlink contract to run the Northern Isles ferry services, a story covered in detail in the Bella Caledonia blogsite.

Photo: An ex Navy man who always maintained standards. Ernest Borgnine who died today aged 95 and whose career included several maritime roles from ‘Torpedo Run’ to ‘The Neptune Factor’.