Monday, November 16, 2009

UK Ship Crew Decision Welcomed by Union Condemned by Owners

Tighter Immigration Rules for Officers in British Waters
Shipping News Feature

UK – The UK’s union for maritime professionals, Nautilus International, has welcomed the decision by the British Home Office last week to remove ship and hovercraft officers from the ‘shortage occupation’ list.

The decision will mean stricter controls over the use of foreign seafarers in UK waters and, according to the Union, help safeguard employment for British seafarers at a time of redundancies and restructuring.

‘We welcome this ruling and the protection it affords our members, particularly in these difficult times,’ said general secretary Mark Dickinson.

The ‘shortage occupations’ system works by giving certain occupations exemption from the standard Resident Labour Market Test, which is applied whenever a UK employer wishes to bring a worker from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) into the UK under a points-based system.

The Union believes that the current wave of redundancies amongst British ship officers and crew means that the exclusive use of foreign nationals working on vessels that are serving UK-only routes is unacceptable, claiming to have ‘concrete examples’ of such practice.

In a statement Nautilus said of the government’s decision that: ‘…these are the same sort of controls that are applied to other industries within the UK, and at a time of officer redundancies and major restructuring in the ferry sector, it is essential that members are given the opportunity to serve on ships close to home.’

However the British Chamber of Shipping, which represents the interests of the owners and shipping lines, stated that they were ‘dismayed’ when the proposal for the change was issued in October. In their own statement at the time they said: ‘The Chamber is concerned that…it may mean that the vessel where the vacancy has arisen will be unable to operate, since it cannot put to sea without a specified minimum number of crew members on board.

‘The Chamber cannot accept the…argument that the presence of ship and hovercraft officers on the shortage occupation list could damage the revival in officer training and risk unnecessary unemployment of suitably qualified UK staff.’