Thursday, January 18, 2018

UK Government Support for Minimum Wage for Seafarers Disparaged by Some

Union Expresses Displeasure Despite Guarantees of Enforcement
Shipping News Feature
UK – The UK government has warned employers that all seafarers working in UK waters must be paid at least UK minimum wage rates. Amid rising concern of unfair competition, following reports that some ships registered abroad were underpaying their workers in UK waters thereby undercutting UK crews, employers failing to pay at least National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage will face fines of up to 200% of the underpayment, public naming and, for the worst offences, criminal prosecution. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said:

“Seafarers’ work is vital to key UK industries such as fishing, oil and gas. We are determined to ensure they are paid fairly for the work they do, often in challenging conditions. We are making it crystal clear that if you work in UK waters you are entitled to at least the minimum wage and all employers – no matter where they’re from – must pay it.”

Minimum wage law applies to seafarers:

  • when they are working on ships within UK waters and ports regardless of where the ship is registered, or where the worker ordinarily works or lives
  • on a foreign ship for work performed outside the UK if they ordinarily work in the UK
  • on UK registered ships if some of their work is in the UK and they live in the UK

UK Border Force patrols will be handing out information to seafarers and employers in more than 50 languages promoting minimum wage law. Border Force’s Modern Slavery Maritime lead Rob Meyer said:

“Border Force takes its role of tackling exploitation and protecting vulnerable people very seriously. We have run a number of maritime operations targeting unscrupulous employers in the sector, and are working with government enforcement agencies to take action taken against the minority of employers who do not treat their workers in line with UK law.”

One might have thought that there would have been universal approval from labour organisations which have long clamoured for such changes, however a press release from the RMT union, in the vanguard of protestors against flags of convenience and the like, sounds a particularly disparaging tone.

The RMT says that this latest government announcement has been released ahead of recommendations from an expert working group, including the RMT, sister maritime union Nautilus, employers and Government departments, which has been looking at improving the application and enforcement of the national minimum wage for all seafarers in the UK shipping industry. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“RMT will be seeking immediate answers from the Government as to why they have jumped the gun on this issue and shut seafarers out of effective protections of their employment and equality rights. This will not help UK seafarers compete for jobs on vessels working between UK ports and from UK ports to offshore energy installations where seafarers from other EU countries can be paid as low as £3.78 per hour and non-EU seafarers even lower, at £2.41 per hour on UK flagged ships.

According to inspections carried out by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the following rates of pay were in effect on the following routes:

Operator…Vessel/Route……………………..………..Rate of Pay…..…Flag……. Nationality of Ratings

Seatruck…Clipper Pennant Heysham-Warrenpoint…£3.78 p.h………Cyprus…….Polish

Gulfmark…North Promise Aberdeen-North Sea…….$3.41 p.h……….UK……..….Filipino

P&O………European Causeway Cairnryan-Larne...€5.36 p.h…………Bahamas...Spanish

The RMT insists the move will not tackle chronic low pay to foreign seafarers which is driving the decline of UK seafarer numbers and the national maritime skills base, including on routes between UK ports and to the offshore oil and gas sector where it says many of its members have lost their jobs on offshore supply and standby vessels as a result of the fall in oil prices in 2014. Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary said:

“The issues of National Minimum Wage and the Equality Act protections for seafarers are about where vessels start and end their journey. This new guidance does little to end problems around applying and enforcing NMW rates of pay for seafarers and preventing nationality based pay discrimination in the UK shipping industry, which sees UK seafarers undercut by migrant workers and is driving the long term decline in UK Ratings and our maritime skills base.

“As the Working Group on seafarers and the NMW, on which BEIS sat along with the UK maritime unions and the employers agreed in November, NMW pay rates should be applied and enforced for all seafarers working on vessels between UK ports and to the offshore oil and gas industry on the UK continental shelf. It is constant pressure from RMT and the trade unions over a long period of hard campaigning that has kept this issue in the public eye and forced the Government to respond. That campaign continues.

“It is unacceptable that changes to the machinery of Government seem to have resulted in an attack on UK seafarers and the continuation of the exploitation of foreign seafarers working from and between UK ports. We will be seeking an immediate response from the Government, as this is totally unacceptable.”

The RMT claims that the government is using the wrong definition of internal waters, rather than territorial sea or UK Continental Shelf (as defined here). The working group it refers to was set up in January 2017 by the former Shipping Minister John Hayes MP. It had three meetings, the last of which in November 2017 was not attended by officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.