THE UK government has pledged to review legislation on seafarers’ pay after it was revealed some workers on the publicly-funded Northern Isles freight boats were being paid far less than the country’s minimum wage.
Minister of state for transport John Hayes confirmed on Thursday (17 November) said that he was “committed” to looking into applying the minimum wage for seafarers after Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael raised the issue in parliament.
In response, Carmichael welcomed the news but said he hoped the proposed review is followed by concrete action.
The issue came to the fore recently after transport union the RMT claimed around 20 foreign workers on the Seatruck operated Serco NorthLink Helliar and Hildasay vessels were being paid as little as £3.66 as a result of a legal loophole.
Seatruck confirmed that some of its workers were earning £4.50 an hour, some way short of the £7.20 an hour UK minimum, but it continued to reject an offer from Serco NorthLink to bridge the pay gap.
The company said it was entitled to pay below the minimum wage as the vessels are not UK flagged and the staff in question are not UK residents.
Speaking at the House of Commons on Thursday, Carmichael called on the government to force a change in legislation over pay for those working on the sea.
“It cannot surely be right that the HMRC should deem a ferry service that starts in Aberdeen and finishes in Lerwick as being one which operates wholly outside UK territorial waters,” he said.
“It is nonsense for the body that is suppose to be enforcing minimum wage to be undermining it in this way. Will the government do something to stop this?”
Hayes responded: “I worked with the honourable gentleman in government and he knows of me what I know of him, that he does his homework. Here I have the legislation, the statutory instrument and original act in my hand as I speak. Let me tell him this. I am committed to review that legislation to ensure that it applies to the off shore sector.”
Speaking after the debate, Carmichael added that the situation with the publicly-funded Northern Isles freight vessels was just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Recent reports suggested some seafarers were being paid as little as £2 an hour and more than half of non-UK vessels in the area employed crew on less than the minimum wage.
“I am pleased that at last the government seems to be taking the situation with seafarers pay and conditions seriously. I shall keep engaged with them to make sure that this ‘review’ is followed with action,” Carmichael said.