Thompsons Solicitors has dismissed government plans to require ferry operators who regularly call at UK ports to pay their workers the equivalent of the UK national minimum wage as “yet more meaningless words”.

The promise of the new legislation, announced last week, follows the mass sacking of 800 P&O workers earlier this year (LELR 764). According to the government, ferries that do not pay their workers the equivalent of the minimum wage will be banned from docking at UK ports.

It is not, therefore, seeking to extend legal entitlement of the NMW to seafarers, but rather to ensure that they are not paid any less than an equivalent sum for the time spent in UK waters.

The changes are to be implemented in the next parliamentary session following a consultation on the proposed measures, also announced last week. This will examine what sort of vessels could be included beyond ferries and what the enforcement measures will be. Options under consideration include surcharges, suspension of port access and fines. The closing date for submitting views to the consultation is 7 June.

At present, the following categories are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW):

  • Seafarers who are working or ordinarily working in UK territorial waters or in connection with the exploration of the seabed or subsoil in the UK sector of the continental shelf, regardless of their nationality or residency. This includes seafarers on UK-UK routes (i.e. those operating on domestic journeys)
  • Seafarers working on international routes to/from UK ports on UK-flagged ships if they are ordinarily resident in the UK and at least some of their employment is in the UK.

However, these provisions exclude seafarers who work on international routes to or from UK ports from entitlement to the NMW if they are not ordinarily resident in the UK; if they do not work at least to some extent in the UK; or if they do not work on non-UK flagged ships.

Neil Todd, solicitor and employment expert at Thompsons Solicitors, who has been supporting the RMT union members sacked by P&O in March, said:

“These are yet more meaningless words from the government. The ‘pay protections’ are just vague promises of a legal minimum that should be paid anyway. And it will be far too easy to exploit – it’s not going to be enforced by the government but by the ports, ship by ship. Also, what does ‘regularly call at UK ports’ mean?

“What is really needed, but what the government is too riven and too in the pockets of employers to enforce, is substantial negative financial consequences for those who treat their workers with contempt. Instead we have no Employment Bill and the government dressing up weak so-called ‘reforms’ as a substantial advance.”

To access the consultation document, click here.