New Minimum Wage for Seafarers Legislation
The UK Government continues to move forward with a new piece of legislation that will require certain sectors of the shipping industry to pay seafarers the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage. Described as a 'political response' to the mass sacking of P&O Ferries crews in March, the draft legislation is being criticised by the shipping industry, which believes that the new law could have negative impacts on port operations and commercial shipping.
The draft legislation is entitled 'The Seafarers' Wages Bill' and was announced in the Queen's Speech in May before receiving its first reading in the House of Lords on the 6th of July. The bill focuses on services and vessels that call in at UK ports in excess of 120 times each year or at least every 72 hours. Any vessel that meets these criteria will be subject to the National Minimum Wage requirements set out in the bill. It is at yet unclear if the bill will cover vessels like commercial fishing boats that operate from the UK.
Describing the bill, a government spokesperson said that it would close the loopholes that allow seafarers working on vessels serving UK ports to be paid less than the National Minimum Wage. The spokesperson added that implementation of the bill into law would put the UK 'ahead of every EU state in its pay protection'.
If passed into law, the bill will allow port authorities to deny access to any service that calls regularly at a UK port and does not pay its crew members the National Minimum Wage for the time they have spent in the UK's waters. Robert Courts, the UK's Maritime Minister, pointed out that the draft was only presented to the House of Lords after 'extensive consultation' with the shipping industry.
Mark Dickinson, the General Secretary of Nautilus International, recognised the government's 'good intentions' but said that the new legislation, in its current form, would not put an end to seafarers being exploited while in UK waters. He added that vessel operators could avoid paying the National Minimum Wage to seafarers by 'port hopping'.
Nautilus has called for 'significant amendments' to the proposed legislation and has highlighted its own 'Fair Ferries Strategy' which gives the ability to sanction offending operators, sets out new penalties for 'fire and rehire' practices and expands collective bargaining.
The current draft of the new bill would mean that the oversight for compliance would be divided between the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Department for Transportation and UK ports. The British Ports Association has strongly criticised the bill, predicting that it would 'hurt their operations'; instead the association believes that the sole authority for enforcement should be government agencies.