Thursday, October 1, 2020

Unions Pleased as National Minimum Wage Finally Applies to Domestic Shipping

Pandemic May Have Concentrated Politicians Minds on Native Jobs
Shipping News Feature

UK – It seems finally maritime unions have some good news issuing forth from government offices. The National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020 comes into force 1 October 2020. It will extend NMW rates to all seafarers working on merchant ships between UK ports and from UK ports to installations on the UK Continental Shelf, something they have been lobbying vigorously for.

The RMT, with support from other maritime unions and the TUC have been pressing governments since the introduction of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 to fully extend the Act to cover seafarers working from and between UK ports. The union says a sample of the evidence gathered by it from seafarer employment contracts over the last 3 years demonstrates the extent of the problem.

UK Ratings held just 19% (9,140) of the total number of Ratings jobs in the UK shipping industry in 2019, according to the Department for Transport’s own statistics. The evidence presented to an online Ministerial Roundtable on Monday 21 September offered a range of hourly wages paid to foreign crews ranging from £1.75 to AB qualified Cypriot staff, €2.04 to a Lithuanian cook, these both on P&O vessels, with similar or slightly higher rates offered for a range of positions to Portuguese, Filipino, Brazilian, Romanian, Croatian, Indian, Russian, Ukrainian and a variety of other nationalities on vessels operated by Stena, DFDS, Cobelfret, Seatruck, Condor Ferries and others.

In January 2018 the government published guidance on the payment of the national minimum wage to seafarers and stated it would be taking steps to enforce the measure. The RMT convened ‘Enforcing the NMW for Seafarers’ online round table last week saw a virtual gathering including Shipping Minister, Robert Courts MP, Employment Minister Paul Scully MP and Labour’s Shadow Shipping Minister Mike Kane MP, along with officials from HMRC NMW Enforcement, the MCA, Border Force and employers from the shipping, renewables, oil and gas and decommissioning sectors.

With the regulations now in place RMT General Secretary Mick Cash was clearly delighted that they at last mean action can be taken against companies the union sees as profiteering from the payment of unacceptably low wages, saying:

“The RMT welcome this new law which we have been demanding as part of our SOS 2020 and other seafarer campaigns down the years. Thousands of Ratings jobs around the UK coastline will now be covered by an improved, legally enforceable basic rate. UK seafarers are now in a better position to compete for these jobs and RMT will be demanding full recognition for all Ratings on all merchant ships working on these routes.

“We still await the Government guidance HMRC need to take enforcement action against companies in the UK shipping industry. But we know that not paying the NMW is an indicator of modern slavery and employers in the shipping industry need to know that failing to pay seafarers the UK NMW on domestic routes will result in a hefty fine, not to mention significant reputational damage in uncertain economic times.

“The crew change crisis triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the appalling abuses and unnecessary risks to seafarer and maritime safety inherent in the ‘low cost’ crewing model and the Flags of Convenience which support it. The collective achievement on the NMW for seafarers must be followed by Government action to train and employ thousands more UK Ratings, including on international routes.”

Photo: Life on board ship has doubtless improved since this Second World War shot was taken. (Courtesy the National WW11 Museum)