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Unions call on government to halt poverty wages at sea - 26-11-2010

Ministers must act to close a legal loophole which allows shipping companies to discriminate against overseas workers employed on UK ships by paying them as little as 2 an hour, says maritime unions the RMT and Nautilus International, and the TUC.

The unions are concerned that an exemption under what was then the Race Relations Act (and which has now been replaced by the Equality Act 2010) fails to protect foreign seafarers from discrimination, despite EU law which prevents unfavourable treatment on the grounds of nationality.

Not only does this legal loophole allow UK shipping employers to pay poverty wages to overseas seafarers, it also makes it harder for UK workers to find jobs on British vessels.

Several years ago the RMT and Nautilus complained to the EU about the then UK government's failure to apply the Race Relations Act to ratings employed on British ships.

The unions and the TUC are now seeking an urgent meeting with Shipping Minister Mike Penning to persuade him to implement regulations outlawing pay discrimination on ships with a British flag, and so avoid being taken to court by the EU and paying a large fine if found to be in breach of the law.

The unions say that many of the seafarers in receipt of poverty wages are from the Philippines or India, and work either on domestic ferry routes or on ships sailing to and from the gas and oil fields in the North Sea.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

"It is time to outlaw the ships of shame. It is a national scandal that employers are exploiting this loophole to deny seafarers a living wage.

"We will continue the fight to stop this outrage which allows companies to wrap themselves in the respectability of the British flag while treating their workforce like slave labour. It is time for the government to act to end the super exploitation that is taking place in UK waters."

Nautilus International General Secretary Mark Dickinson said:

"All EU/EEA nationals on UK ships are entitled under EU law to equal treatment and it is therefore necessary for the government to align UK law with European law without delay to avoid sanctions from Europe."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

"The government should play fair at sea and end the loophole that allows foreign crew on ships in UK waters to be so shoddily treated.

"If it doesn't act, ministers could be taken to court by the EU and run the risk of the country being fined millions of euros at a time when the public finances are under great strain.

"Some shipping owners have threatened to register their boats under the flags of other countries if the law is changed, but ministers should ignore this blatant attempt to cry wolf, do the right thing and call time on poverty wages."

Discrimination Against Seafarers

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