Nautilus has voiced its support for a member who was the victim of sex discrimination, as she launches a petition calling on the government to eliminate a loophole in the Equality Act 2010.
The loophole excludes protection to seafarers working on foreign vessels outside UK waters and fails to protect applicants for such jobs, even when the recruitment procedure is carried out in the UK.
Deck officer Sophia Walker is demanding a change in the law after Hong-Kong based Wallem Shipmanagement refused to employ her for a deck-based job because she was a woman.
In the case of Walker v Wallem Shipmanagement, the London-based Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled on 16 January 2020, that deck officer Sophia Walker was the victim of sex discrimination after she was refused a job interview because she was a woman.
Wallem admitted direct sex discrimination but escaped punishment because of the loophole in the Equalities Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercraft) Regulations 2011, which excludes protection to seafarers working on foreign vessels outside UK waters.
Nautilus is fully behind Ms Walker’s campaign, and also wrote to the shipping minister calling for the law to be remedied. The Union alerted the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) to Wallem’s behaviour, with a view to ending its discriminatory recruitment practices.
In a letter to Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps and then-Shipping Minister Nusrat Ghani on 6 February, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said Ms Walker’s case was ‘likely to cause considerable concern within the British maritime community, which has recently seen many campaigns and events aimed at promoting the entry of women into seafaring careers’.
The matter should be one of ‘utmost concern to the government’ and to ‘all those championing equal opportunities and diversity in the work place’, Mr Dickinson said.
In Parliament on 12 February Ms Ghani committed to review existing employment legislation for UK seafarers to ensure protections against discrimination by foreign companies.
‘We are committed to develop the concept of a social framework, as referred to in the Maritime 2050 Strategy,’ Ms Ghani said.
‘This could include a review of all employment legislation explicitly pertaining to seafarers’ work and social protection, ensuring close alignment with the protections available to those working in land-based roles.’
The Equalities Act 2010 (Work on Ships and Hovercraft) Regulations 2011 due for a five yearly statutory review in 2021.
In the background to her petition Ms Walker said: ‘The EAT’s ruling not only affected myself but moreover it has the serious potential to affect all job applicants on England and Wales soil who apply to work as a seafarer on vessels under non-UK flags which sail in international waters.
‘This abhorrent loophole in the law gives the “green light” to shipping companies like Wallem to openly discriminate against job applicants, for example, racist or otherwise discriminatory recruitment criteria (e.g. ‘no Jews or Muslims’ ‘no gays’) could be used with impunity.’