UK announces historic boost to seafarers’ rights and welfare

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Thousands of seafarers will be guaranteed fair wages, proper rest periods and suitable training thanks to a new Seafarers’ Charter launched by the UK Government today.

Building on government action already taken, the charter – backed by DFDS Ferries, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena – is part of the Government’s wider nine-point plan to protect seafarers and boost employment protections, ensuring they’re paid and treated fairly – irrespective of flag or nationality.

This is at the heart of the UK’s response to P&O Ferries’ appalling decision to fire nearly 800 of its staff without consultation or notice last year.

The UK Government’s charter will be launched alongside a similar initiative by the French Government during a visit by Maritime Minister Baroness Vere to Paris today to meet her counterpart Minister Berville.

Maritime Minister Baroness Vere (pictured) said: “Fair pay and protection against unlawful discrimination are the basic rights of any employee. Our seafarers deserve nothing less.

“I therefore expect companies across the maritime sector to sign up to this Charter, letting their staff know they’re serious about protecting their rights and welfare.

“Today, in Paris, alongside Minister Berville, we strengthen our commitment to protect those working in the Channel and we’ll continue collaborating with our international partners on this vital issue.”

During the UK-France summit in Paris earlier this year, Transport Secretary Mark Harper met his French counterpart Clément Beaune, with both nations agreeing to continue working together to improve conditions for those working in the Channel.

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
• ensure adequate training and development is provided
• provide employees with a full, indefinite contract
• allow seafarers to receive social security benefits, including sickness benefits, family benefits, and medical care
• adopt roster patterns considering fatigue, mental health and safety
• provide adequate rest periods between shifts and rosters
• carry out regular drug and alcohol testing

As well as the Seafarers’ Wages Act and the Charter, strong action has been taken against rogue employers using controversial practices which was revealed in the plans to create a statutory code of practice.

The Code will make it explicitly clear to employers that they must not use threats of dismissal to pressurise employees into accepting new terms, and they should have honest and open discussions with their employees and representatives.
John Napton, CEO, Condor Ferries, said: “Condor Ferries is a proud and responsible employer, dedicated to building a diverse, inclusive and authentic workplace for all staff and crew across our network. We therefore fully support the Seafarers’ Charter being launched by the UK government today.”

Christophe Mathieu, Brittany Ferries CEO, said: “When it comes to seafarers’ wages and working conditions, we believe that all ferry companies should aim for the highest bar and not participate in a race to the bottom.

“That’s why this charter is such an important step forward for us. We never forget the importance of seafarers and are proud to be part of the fight to protect their rights, on both sides of the Channel. We also intend to shout about this from the rooftops, urging freight and passenger customers to make the right decision when choosing a carrier.”

Gemma Griffin MBE, Vice President & Head of Global Crewing, DFDS, said: “DFDS welcomes the Seafarers Charter and any related legislation that protects the employment rights of seafarers and ensures that there is a level playing field for all operators. We have been cooperating with the French & UK authorities on the practical application of the charter and the new laws, and are very pleased to see the actions taken by both authorities, so far.”

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