Review of Seafarer Discrimination Regs

Circular No: NP/120/24




Our ref: S1/1


13th May 2024


Dear Colleagues


Review of Equality Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercraft) Regs 2011


The Union’s policy is to eliminate all forms of discrimination against seafarers. This includes nationality-based pay discrimination as well as all forms of discrimination on grounds of protected characteristics, including sex, race, sexual orientation, age and disability.


In 2009, the union persuaded the last Labour Government to review seafarer pay differentials. This led to the Carter Report, published in May 2010, which rejected the shipowner’s arguments and recommended “outlawing the practice of nationality-based pay differentials for seafarers altogether”, which remains in line with RMT policy. 


Under the Tory-led Coalition, the UK Government reluctantly introduced secondary regulations under sections 81, 207 and 212 of the Equality Act 2010. The RMT Parliamentary Group Convenor at the time, John McDonnell MP spoke in committee debates of these regulations in support of enforcing the Carter Report in full, to end the scandalous discrimination routinely practiced against foreign seafarers by shipowners and crewing agents.


However, the government chose to introduce selective protections which continued to permit nationality-based pay and all other forms of discrimination against seafarers from non-EEA countries. The Equality Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercraft) Regulations 2011 came into force in August 2011 and was supposed to have been reviewed in 2016. This process was started by the Department for Transport and RMT submitted detailed evidence of endemic pay discrimination across all sectors of the UK shipping industry, but the process was never concluded due to the Government’s chaotic handling of Brexit.


RMT consistently demanded that the DfT re-start that review process. Brexit and the pandemic were both cited as reasons why the DfT had not completed a review of these seafarer discrimination regulations. 


Last month, the DfT finally published a Call for Evidence. Shipping Branches will note the heavily biased outline of the issues provided by the DfT which only refers to evidence submitted by the UK Chamber of Shipping (employers). The deadline for responses is 19th July 2024.


The DfT do not mention the impact of this practice on seafarers, which includes basic rates of pay identified by your union below £3 per hour to non-EEA seafarers and a total lack of protection from other forms of discrimination, including racism, sexism, and homophobia. They do not even mention that this practice, combined with the use of flags of convenience is how P&O Ferries and others can pay agency crew under £5 per hour for months at sea.


The latest UK Seafarer Statistics published by the DfT show that Ratings from non-EEA countries accounted for a staggering 84% of total Ratings jobs in the UK shipping industry. That is over 105,000 Ratings jobs.


Evidence amassed by the union in the ferries, offshore supply chain, cruise and other sectors shows that the vast majority of non-EEA Ratings are paid well below seafarers covered by RMT collective bargaining agreements for doing the same job on ships that regularly call at UK ports. It is legal for employers to recruit non-EEA seafarers on UK flagged ships to pay them below what a UK colleague would be paid. This discriminatory practice must end.


The NEC has instructed me to request that all maritime and offshore branches provide recent evidence that they have of nationality-based pay or other forms of discrimination against seafarers. Please contact with all examples and comments that members in your Branch have on this matter by Monday 15thJuly.


We will also co-ordinate actions with Regional Organisers and others, including the ITF to gather evidence of discrimination against seafarers on merchant vessels registered under flags of convenience in all ports with an RMT presence. This will strengthen the case for extending legal protections against discrimination for all seafarers in all sectors of our shipping industry.


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


Yours sincerely


Michael Lynch

General Secretary