Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum by RMT (FUS 17A)


  I will answer the questions in the order as detailed in your letter:

1. What is your view of the comments made in paragraph 38 of the daughter document on Shipping, which imply that the union's contributed to the decision of owners to flag out?

  The union totally refutes this argument not least because it is factually incorrect. Shipowners can crew UK flagged ships with whichever nationality of crew they wish, there are no restrictions requiring the employment of UK ratings or officers on board.

  It is probably true to say that in the past there has been a perception that when changing flag you also change crews. One of the prime reasons for UK shipowners flagging out is to move to a register which does not necessarily enforce regulations as well as the UK authorities. Of course another reason could be that another register has a more advantageous fiscal regime. For example if the UK Government do not make tax concessions in the forthcoming budget it is likely that P&O Nedlloyd will transfer their deep sea fleet to the Dutch register which has the tonnage tax already in place.

  It should also be noted that if a shipping company chose to utilise a crew of lower paid foreign nationals they are likely to be able to work their ships with a far more relaxed view of the safety regulations.

2. Your memorandum refers to amendments to the immigration rules. What do you have in mind, and what impact will they have?

  The Immigration regulations were introduced on 1 August 1996 and stipulate that work permits are required if seafarers are not nationals of EEC or EEA member states (EEA member states are those in the EEC and Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein). The voyages covered are those where a ferry requires a passenger certificate and which operates between two UK ports or where the vessel operates wholly or largely in UK waters. Work permits will not be issued unless it could be shown that European nationals could not do the job which in these instances is extremely unlikely.

  The immigration regulations are in place to protect domestic seafaring employment, but the current definition as to what constitutes this is too narrow.

  First of all it is imperative that the offshore sector is included within the regulations. Currently employment within the UK Continental Shelf is covered by all other UK legislation.

  If the vessel is just operating from or based at one UK port then workers on any vessel engaged in these activities should be covered by the regulations. A short detour outside UK territorial waters for example to an offshore installation, should not be enough to avoid the UK regulations.

  The regulations should also be amended so that domestic freight vessels are included in the regulations. Domestic freight vessels are at the moment needlessly excluded by the current requirement for a passenger certificate. Vessels which operate from just one UK port should also be included.

  Vessels are currently excluded from the regulations if a ferry carries less than 12 passengers and the union also believes there is no good reason for this to continue. Often these small vessels are carrying lorry drivers but they are still passengers.

  The proposed changes outlined above are important in so far as they simplify the regulations into a more easily understandable and logical form.

3. What changes to the Race Relations Act 1976 do you wish to see? What impact will they have?

  The simple change required is for the removal of section 9 which exempts seafarers from the provisions of the Act. When the 1968 Act was last reviewed it was recognised that the principal of wage inequality was unacceptable in the long term.

  The 1976 legislation outlawed two previous discriminatory measures which allowed shipowners to refuse to employ persons on board if this resulted in persons of different colour, race or ethnic or national origin being compelled to share sleeping, eating or sanitary accommodation. Shipowners could also discriminate in such a way so as not to have passengers of different colour, race or ethnic or national origin to share sleeping cabins.

  The outlawing of the above left the remaining provision which allows UK shipowners to engage foreign nationals at lower rates and on different terms from UK domiciled seamen. It was recognised that the principal of wage inequality was unacceptable in the long term and a Working Group of industry representatives was set up to study ways of overcoming the problem of wage inequalities. The Working Group recommended that the practice be outlawed on a staged basis over five years. An agreement was put in place which would technically outlaw the practice but because co-operation was not received from all Government's no movement of any substance was made.

  However the 1976 Act incorporated a specific provision for the outlawing of the practice by cessation or amendment of section 9 by Order and it is this which RMT are seeking.

  RMT are not arguing for the replacement of other nationals by UK seafarers on board UK vessels but for the outlawing of discrimination. European seafarers, in particular Spanish and Portuguese seafarers, are clearly being discriminated against.

  As an illustration we can look at the offshore sector and three Supply vessel companies Farstad Shipping Ltd, Stirling Shipping Ltd and Tidewater Marine Ltd. All these companies have an office in Scotland and their vessels operate from a UK port servicing platforms and rigs in the UK Continental Shelf and on occasion on the Norwegian, Dutch and Danish Continental Shelf.

  The above companies employ British officers on all their vessels and a mixture of British and Portuguese ratings. In certain cases the two nationalities are working side by side and the difference in terms and conditions of employment means that Portuguese seafarers are on 54 per cent less than the UK ratings.

  There are also differences in safety legislation applicable to the seafarers. British ratings are protected by agreements and standards which limit working tours of duty in the harsh North Sea conditions to an average of four weeks on and four weeks off duty. Portuguese seafarers on board the same ship will normally work 12 weeks on the vessel with a maximum of one month off duty. It is believed that in an attempt to escape the Fairness at work legislation for trade union recognition these companies are in the process of reducing their compliment of British ratings to less than 40 per cent.

  The protection for the seafarers under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Acts and access to Tribunals are the same for each seafarer.

  The practice of one company employing seafarers from different nationalities, and on different pay and conditions, is also replicated in the Irish Sea where UK and Spanish ratings are employed on different terms.

  It has been argued that the seafarers are employed under the EU Directive on Free Movement of Labour. This is true but Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome states that the Free Movement of Labour shall entail the abolition of discrimination based on nationality between workers of member states in respect of employment, remuneration and other conditions at work, and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality with regards to the selection for employment, pay and other terms and conditions.

  RMT believes that the equality contained within the Treaty of Rome should be enforced by the removal of sections eight and nine of the 1976 Race Relations Act RMT has the support of the Portuguese and other European seafarers unions in the quest for wage equality and opposition to social dumping.

  I hope the above observations assist the Committee in it's deliberations.

James Knapp

General Secretary

28 January 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 8 June 1999