The London government's bill to ensure ferry seafarers the minimum wage is perplexing and does not please ports at all
For the British Ports Association and Nautilus International (which presented a Fair Ferries Strategy), among the stumbling blocks is that of compliance with obligations under international maritime law
May 11, 2022
The aim of the bill is that these seafarers receive a wage equivalent to at least the national minimum wage of the United Kingdom. The intention is to prohibit ferries with seafarers who are not paid the equivalent of the minimum wage of dock in UK ports. Being mostly of international sea routes, the government of London has specified that it is addressing this issue in the context of ongoing bilateral discussions with France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Ireland and Denmark, with the aim of ensuring that the sea routes between the various nations become real "minimum wage corridors".
The Minister of Transport confirmed the absolute will of the government to go all the way: "we will not stop in front of us to nothing - assured Grant Shapps - to ensure that seafarers in UK ports are paid fairly. The shameful P&O Ferries shares - added the minister - not represent the principles of our maritime sector which is world leader and change the law on safeguards of seafarers' salaries is a clear signal for all about the fact that we will not tolerate economic harassment on workers. We will protect all seafarers who sail regularly to and from UK ports and we will make sure they are not excluded from work. Ferry operators that call at a stopover regularly in UK ports - threatened Shapps - they will suffer consequences if they do not pay their own fairly workers'.
The government's intention is to amend the law on seafarers' salaries during the parliamentary session just inaugurated and to this end has opened a consultation period with the maritime and port sector lasting four weeks.
The first doubts about the content of the proposal are from the British Ports Association (BPA). Indeed, more than doubts, the association of British ports has stated in practice that the bill does not stand. "The creation of new rules for ports to regulate ships in this way - replied the association - is without history. The application of the minimum wage - explained the BPA - it is not an area where ports have a specific competence. This should be a job for Maritime & Coastguard Agency or for HM Revenue & Customs. The ports - recalled the association - facilitate the safe and efficient movement of ships, cargo, passengers and maritime activities, are not regulators'.
But the criticism of the Association of British Ports does not "It is not clear - specified the BPA - if the bill will achieve the government's objectives of to improve long-standing problems affecting seafarers. Ours Initial assessment is that it may not be compatible with the United Kingdom's obligations under the Treaties international or with the current principles that govern our independent port sector'.
Reiterating that in the opinion of BPA the task of ensuring that seafarers are paid the minimum wage should fall on the Coast Guard and not on ports, the Director General of the British Ports Association, Richard Ballantyne, noted that the Government believes the Maritime & Coastguard Agency cannot to do so 'on the basis of the United Kingdom's obligations towards of international maritime law, since every ship is subject to the rules, including wage rules, of his State of flag, i.e. the country in which the ship is registered. The Ministers - noted Ballantyne - believe they can circumvent this problem by imposing on ports the obligation to implement the "internal" provisions. BPA - he specified - is Concerned about the UK Government's expectations of use of ports as a maritime police tool. The sector - ballantyne recalled - he is not equipped for these challenges which are more typically assigned to government agencies. In the UK there are 36 government agencies that have border powers, including HMRC and the Border Force. In the last three decades - concluded Ballantyne - the port policy of the government in the four states of the United Kingdom was that of support an independent and open port sector. This has successful resulting in a port sector that is resilient and has invested large sums of private capital in skills and infrastructure'.
While welcoming the initiatives to extend the rights of seafarers working on ferries that climb ports of the United Kingdom, the nautilus International union also has expressed some doubts about the possible outcomes of the new legislation presented by the government. Recalling that "the seafarers working on ferries between UK ports, e.g. example between Larne and Cairnryan, they are already subject to the national minimum wage", the union noted that "a national legislation applying the national minimum wage to ferries operated on international routes to and from the United Kingdom, although it represents a welcome initiative, it will not prevent the actions of P&O Ferries and others aimed at destabilizing the UK ferry sector and threatening the work of a more seafarers residing in the United Kingdom. Without urgent complementary legislative measures to enforce "corridors" minimum wages" proposed by the minister as part of his package - explained Nautilus International - alone the UK legislation would not guarantee working seafarers on ferries on international trips to receive regularly at least the minimum wage. In this sense - highlighted the trade union - international cooperation is essential'.
Nautilus International also recalled that it had presented the government, together with the RMT trade union and representatives of the sector, the "Fair Ferries Strategy", a proposal aimed at create minimum standards of employment and security within the collective contractual agreements in the ferry sector. The proposal provides for all ferry companies that operate with the United Kingdom the obligation to cooperate with the parties and to apply as a minimum what has been agreed, with expertise on verifying compliance with these obligations entrusted to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.
"We are pleased - reiterated the secretary general of Nautilus International, Mark Dickinson - that the government wants ensure that P&O Ferries' despicable actions cannot more occur. Unfortunately - he specified - the Queen's Speech Does Not Address Complexities maritime use and ending the possibility for employers to exploit their maritime professionals. The amendments to the Harbour's Act that the government will present - warned Dickinson - they simply would not achieve the result wished to reverse P&O Ferries and ensure that this can never happen again."
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