The STUC today welcomed the introduction of new legislation which extends National Minimum Wage (NMW) pay rates to cover all seafarers working on merchant ships between ports in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The change addresses a longstanding legal loophole which allowed workers, including those associated with offshore energy installations (oil, gas and wind) in the North and Irish Seas, to be paid less than the minimum wage.
STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said:
"The new legislation will improve basic protections for seafarers from pay abuses that have been illegal in land based workplaces for over 20 years. Be under no doubt, the campaigning work of trade unions such as RMT and Nautilus, who exposed pay rates of less than £4 on SERCO’s Northern Isles Ferry Services contract, have helped bring this about.
"The STUC also urge the Scottish Government to make every effort to support enforcement for seafarers in Scotland’s shipping industry and ensure its Fair Work agenda is not undermined.
"Enforcement must be effective for all seafarers on private and public ferries, offshore supply and every other merchant ship in Scotland in scope of the new law. Operators on routes such as Cairnryan-Larne must be a priority for regulators as well as specialist vessels in the offshore wind supply chain, which will become increasingly important in any ‘Just Transition’ to a low-carbon economy.
"This is a first step and STUC back further measures to outlaw nationality-based pay discrimination against seafarers on international routes from our ports."
Notes to Editors
The National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020 comes into force across the UK on 1 October 2020
The legislation is the result of long term campaigning by the seafarer unions, RMT (Ratings) and Nautilus International (Officers) in the UK which consistently highlighted and reported to UK regulators cases of seafarers working in UK waters on basic rates of pay well below the UK legal minimum, including the £3.66 per hour paid to crew on the Heliar and Hildasay freighters chartered under Transport Scotland’s Northern Isles Ferry Services contract in 2016.
Both unions sat on the Legal Working Group on Seafarers and the NMW in 2017 which was re-convened by the UK Government after the Heliar and Hildasay pay scandal came to light. The Working Group recommended in 2018 that territorial scope of the NMW Act 1998 be extended to cover seafarers working on merchant ships working to the territorial limit of UK waters, as well as to offshore energy installations on the UK Continental Shelf, provided that the route calls at UK ports only.
The secondary legislation was published in the UK Parliament in May 2020 and was passed by both Houses at the end of June. Cruise ships are exempt from the new legislation.
Merchant ships are regularly chartered to work coastal trade routes between ports in Scotland and other UK ports and P&O Ferries operate two Bahamas-registered ferries between Cairnryan-Larne which are crewed with non-UK seafarers paid below the NMW, under £5 per hour basic in some cases. The vessel is still working on this route. Paying crew below the NMW on this route will be illegal from 1 October 2020.
RMT organised an online roundtable on Monday 21 September Enforcing the NMW for Seafarers, attended by Maritime Minister Robert Courts MP and BEIS Minister Paul Scully MP and departmental officials. Labour’s Shadow Shipping Minister, Mike Kane MP also attended, as well as the key agencies that regulate and enforce the NMW (HMRC NMW Enforcement), seafarer safety and welfare standards (Maritime & Coastguard Agency) and anti-modern slavery legislation (Border Force).
RMT is awaiting consultation over draft guidance from the UK Government to reflect the provisions in the new legislation which will be central to the enforcement of the new legislation for seafarers working from ports in Scotland.