The Seafarers’ Wages Act Comes Into Law

A new law came into effect on 23 March to ensure that workers on vessels in UK waters are not paid less than the minimum wage. The move comes after a legal loophole led to the abrupt dismissal of 800 P&O ferries staff in 2022. As a result, the government has introduced the 9-point plan for seafarers. 

The plan is intended to give seafarers better protections and working conditions under law. Many elements of the plan involve putting robust measures in place to ensure that all those employed on vessels in UK waters are paid a fair wage. 

It will also establish working relationships with overseas partners to create minimum wage corridors, and will make it easier to take legal action against companies who use unfair labour practices and ‘fire and rehire’ policies, such as that deployed by P&O last year. 

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Our maritime sector is world-leading. That’s down to the thousands of hardworking seafarers working tirelessly to maintain supply chains and transport passengers safely across our waters.”

He added: “These workers deserve a fair wage and I’m therefore delighted to see our Seafarers’ Wages Act become law, helping improve pay and protect seafarers from exploitation.”

The plan is also intended to make the UK a more attractive destination for overseas workers, companies, and investment. It will be enforced with the help of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and HM Revenue and Customs. 

Louise Haigh, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, has spoken out in Parliament about the government’s handling of the P&O affair, and criticised the lack of action against the company directors. She commented: : “Its test must be whether it will end the exploitative practices that have become commonplace in our maritime industry.”

She added: “Will those responsible for the P&O scandal be brought to justice? Will it stop another P&O scandal? The only way to prevent this happening again is to hike up the damages that can be paid at tribunal and/or slap criminal liability on those who break the law.”

David Hammond, Human Rights at Sea CEO, said: “Seafarer protections with associated flag, coastal and port State obligations require not just primary legislation to be enacted but persistent vigilance to ensure that fair working conditions are maintained, if not exceeded.”

“This new Act is a start, but the likes of the P&O Ferries scandal must not be allowed to be repeated within the UK jurisdiction.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has been working closely with his French counterpart Clément Beaune to establish ways of creating a fair working environment between both nations. A consultation is currently underway to set out a new Code of Practice on firing workers and rehiring new staff on cheaper wages. 

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