A new Seafarers’ Charter launched by the UK government has guaranteed fair wages, proper rest periods, and suitable training for thousands of seafarers.
The charter is part of the government’s wider plan to protect seafarers and boost employment protections, ensuring they’re paid and treated fairly – regardless of flag or nationality. This is at the centre of the UK’s response to P&O Ferries’ decision to fire nearly 800 of its staff without consultation or notice last year.
The government has already delivered the Seafarers’ Wages Act, a key safeguard to protecting domestic seafarers in the UK. The law will make it illegal to not pay the thousands of seafarers regularly entering the UK at least the equivalent of the UK National Minimum Wage.
The Seafarers’ Charter requires employers to pay seafarers for overtime at a rate of a least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate. It ensures adequate training and development and provides employees with a full, indefinite contract.
Furthermore, it allows seafarers to receive social security benefits, including sickness benefits, family benefits, and medical care as well as adopt roster patterns considering fatigue, mental health, and safety. It also provides adequate rest periods between shifts and rosters and carries out regular drug and alcohol testing.
The UK government’s charter will be launched alongside a similar initiative by the French government during a meeting between UK Maritime Minister Baroness Vere and her French counterpart Minister Berville in Paris.
The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) was not so thrilled with the signed charter and the bilateral agreement between France and the UK.
“This agreement is a step forward in the right direction. But we need mandatory standards and sectoral collective bargaining rights. The ETF is calling for the adoption of mandatory seafarer employment standards on European shipping routes, underpinned by sectoral collective bargaining rights, where they do not currently exist,” ETF general secretary Livia Spera stated.
Spera warned that the UK-France bilateral agreement and the voluntary charter will be unable to prevent such cases from happening in the future.
“The solution proposed by France and the UK is based on a voluntary agreement by companies to follow the ‘rules.’ This is not enough, as it does not force companies to be compliant and it does not establish enforcement mechanisms,” Spera concluded.
International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary, Stephen Cotton, also called for mandatory standards to be applied. Cotton said the voluntary charter would not stop the sector’s slide into another round of cost-cutting and wage-slashing because some companies had made it their strategy to ignore community standards and even break the law.