New Bill To Ensure Fair Wage For Seafarers

The UK government has launched a new bill to ensure that seafarers regularly calling at British ports will be paid the minimum UK wage. The move follows the controversial decision by P&O Ferries to sack 800 workers without consultation or warning, in order to hire cheaper non-UK based staff.

ITV News reports that the new bill is intended to close the legal loophole, and prevent a similar circumstance occurring in the future. The Seafarers’ Wages Bill gives port authorities the power to deny access to operators who make regular landings at UK ports, but do not pay workers the equivalent of the UK National Minimum Wage. 

The decision was taken in May to launch a consultation into the Seafarers’ Wages Bill, after the widely criticized move by P&O Ferries. It was later established that P&O broke the law by failing to consult unions before sacking crew who were paid an average of £36,000 per year. 

The company then re-hired new workers who were paid an average of £5.15 per hour, well below the National Minimum wage of £9.50 for workers aged 23 or over. The only exception was for a route between Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the company was bound by UK law to pay the minimum wage.

Maritime Minister Robert Courts said: “Britain’s rich maritime history and exciting future is thanks to the extraordinary men and women who work at sea. Fair pay for seafarers is a must, and the new laws we’ve introduced in Parliament today send a clear signal to operators that the UK will not let seafarers be priced out of their jobs by rogue bosses.”

The P&O boss, Peter Hebblethwaite, attended a Commons hearing held by the transport and business committee. Under questioning, he fully admitted that his actions were illegal, but defended them by saying that the company now had a competitive business model.

Seafarers’ Charity chief executive, Deborah Layde said: “After P&O Ferries appalling disregard for their hardworking seafarers, many of whom had given many years of loyal service to the company, I am delighted to see Government taking steps to ensure fair pay and enhanced protections for seafarers regularly entering UK ports.”

She added: “The Seafarers’ Charity welcomes The Seafarers’ Wages Bill as an important step in recognising the substantial contribution seafarers make to our economy in what can be a very demanding job. At The Seafarers’ Charity we fully support efforts to ensure that all seafarers receive equivalent pay and protections as those working ashore.”   

Vessels that call at UK ports over 120 times a year, or at least every three days, will be within the scope of the Bill’s compliance policies, and The Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will play a part in enforcing the new legislation. Close consultation will be made with European neighbours as well.

The 9-point plan will help to maintain Britain’s status as having one of the most highly skilled maritime workforces in the world. 

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