Applying and enforcing the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for seafarers

Circular No: NP/0109/19


Our Ref: S1/7

14th June 2019

Dear Colleague,

Applying and enforcing the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for seafarers

Further to circular NP/065 of 5th April 2018, working with the RMT Parliamentary Group, the Government has agreed to introduce legislation in the autumn to extend the NMW for seafarers working between UK ports and on one-port voyages in the offshore energy sector.

In the Commons on 11th June, RMT Group MP Alex Cunningham pressed the Minimum Wage Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP to tackle pay rates below the NMW for seafarers in the offshore wind industry. In reply, the Minister said:

“In the autumn the Government will introduce legislation to extend the right to receive the national minimum wage to seafarers operating in UK territorial seas. Any business, British or otherwise, benefiting from consumer subsidies and the growth of UK offshore wind has a clear moral responsibility to abide by the spirit of UK employment law, even where operations take them beyond the UK’s formal jurisdiction.”

This is a long overdue reform, one which was recommended early last year by the Legal Working Group on Seafarers and the NMW, which the RMT was represented on. To be clear, the Government’s intentions are for the NMW to apply to seafarers, regardless of nationality or flag of vessel, working on UK-UK routes and on ‘one port’ voyages offshore installations on the UK Continental Shelf.

At a meeting of the All-Party Maritime and Ports Group on 10th June, in response to questioning from RMT, the Shipping Minister had again committed to this reform, as outlined in the Department for Transport’s Maritime 2050 strategy document published 24th January this year which states the intention to:

“…extend the protection [of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998] to all seafarers on all vessels working on domestic trade in UK territorial waters or on the UK continental shelf. Applying the legislation to all seafarers working in these waters, regardless of their nationality and the flag of the vessel they are on, will allow UK seafarers to compete more fairly for domestic jobs, while increasing the protection for all seafarers in our waters.”

In recognising this as a significant moment, we do not lose sight of the need to get that reform successfully through parliament in the autumn or of the RMT’s wider ambitions to end nationality-based pay discrimination and all forms of seafarer discrimination on vessels working from UK ports.

The fight for stronger seafarer employment rights on international routes from UK ports was also given a boost in the Commons on 11th June, when the Shadow Shipping Minister and RMT Group MP, Karl Turner raised the appallingly low levels of seafarer pay on P&O ferry routes from Hull:

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): It is disgraceful that P&O Ferries is employing Lithuanian cooks sailing from Hull to Zeebrugge on the “Pride of York” at €2.04 an hour. Filipino able-bodied seafarers crewing the “Pride of Hull” are paid $4.45 an hour. Will the Minister meet me to see what we can do together to stop these predatory capitalist companies taking advantage of foreign crews? This amounts to slave labour.

Kelly Tolhurst (BEIS Minister): I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, and he is absolutely right: this is unacceptable.

Through the Parliamentary Groups and the SOS 2020 campaign, RMT is increasing the political and industrial pressure on shipping companies and crewing agencies that profit from seafarer exploitation in our ports and waters.

I would be grateful if you could bring the content of this circular to the attention of all members in your Branch and you will be kept updated with further developments.

Yours sincerely


Mick Cash
General Secretary