I am writing to alert you to progress in the RMT’s campaign against seafarer pay exploitation.
During questions in the House of Commons last Tuesday, RMT Group member Alex Cunningham MP asked the Employment Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP about non-payment of the NMW to seafarers in the offshore wind sector. The Minister replied stating that the necessary legislation would be introduced after the summer:
“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 change will mean that the NMW Act applies and can be enforced for seafarers:
1. working on ships operating between UK ports exclusively or mainly within the UK territorial water limit (12 miles); and
2. from a UK port out to offshore oil and gas or wind installations on the UK Continental Shelf and back to the same UK port (a ‘one port’ voyage).
It will apply to any ship, regardless of flag and to any seafarer, regardless of nationality.
It is in line with the recommendations made to the UK Government in January 2018 by the Legal Working Group on Seafarers and the NMW. RMT had a seat on this working group. As part of that work, we estimated that around 13,000 exploited foreign seafarers would be covered by this limited but significant extension of the NMW in the shipping industry.
RMT has been campaigning since the start of the century for the NMW to cover all seafarers working from UK ports and we will ensure that this modest but significant step is delivered by the Government in the autumn. The NMW is a useful baseline to measure pay exploitation of foreign seafarers by shipowners and crewing agencies through the ‘low cost’ crewing model but we are clear that extending the NMW will not, on its own, solve the deeper problems of low pay and modern slavery in the shipping industry which have also driven the decline in UK Ratings numbers since the 1980s.
The broader campaign against seafarer exploitation in the UK shipping industry was also given a boost in the Commons last Tuesday, when Karl Turner MP, Shadow Shipping Minister and RMT Group member, put the Minimum Wage Minister on the spot over the sub-NMW rates of pay on P&O Ferries out of his home port of 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: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, and he is absolutely right: this is unacceptable.
Through the SOS 2020 campaign, RMT is the only union keeping the pressure up on the Government and international trade unions in the ITF for meaningful action against NMW avoidance, nationality based pay discrimination and other forms of seafarer exploitation in our industry. That fight goes on to end seafarer exploitation and recover more jobs for British Ratings on RMT collectively bargained terms and conditions.