My contribution to the debate on the remaining stages of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill earlier this week:

A number of concerns have not been addressed in the passage of the Bill, which will be music to the ears of P&O Ferries, Irish Ferries and other unscrupulous bosses and operators. For example, the Bill’s impact assessment did not estimate the total number of seafarers who would be covered by its provisions. The Department is collecting figures—I think they might even be published today—but we should know how many seafarers will be protected under the Bill. I do not think that 120 calls a year, as laid down under the terms of the Bill, accords with the Government’s aim of improving pay protections for seafarers working on services with a close link to the UK. Calling at a UK port once a week is a clear and direct link between the crew and the UK economy, as well as raising the wage floor for UK-French routes in the channel.

Government amendment 1 imposes a duty on ports to request declarations of national minimum wage equivalence, but that is insufficient if it applies only to non-qualifying seafarers on services that call at UK ports 120 times a year. A lower minimum threshold of 50 port calls in the UK would also make it more difficult, as one of my colleagues pointed out, to avoid this legislation by port-hopping, particularly on services that call more frequently at UK ports.

Amendment 39 would protect collective bargaining conditions above the national minimum wage. P&O Ferries and other companies operate their vessels with agency crew recruited under exploitative conditions that bear little relation to the economic conditions that prevail in the ports from which they regularly work. An equivalent to the national minimum wage in UK territorial waters is an improvement for many ratings on the services in scope, but the potential for employers to use this legislation to bring down pay towards the UK national minimum wage must be guarded against. As such, it is regrettable that the amendment has not been selected.

In all the technical detail we must not lose sight of the fact that collectively bargained terms and conditions were, ultimately, P&O Ferries’ target for its shameful actions. This was not fire and rehire. The agency crew employed by International Ferry Management of Malta are not covered by collective bargaining agreement—not even pale imitations supported by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, to which Peter Hebblethwaite made reference in his appalling evidence to the joint hearing of the Select Committees.

Seafarer employment agreements—the legal requirement under the MLC—merely reflect existing CBAs. They should and can be underpinned by stronger protections in domestic legislation. It would reassure France, Belgium, Ireland and other countries with whom the Government are seeking to negotiate bilateral agreements if the Bill did not undermine existing seafarer terms and conditions. That is important for good operators such as Brittany Ferries, which operates a 100% French flagged and crewed fleet, including on routes from Portsmouth and Plymouth. Brittany Ferries has clearly stated that P&O Ferries’ employment style is against its principles and not in the longer-term interests of French seafarers or the French national economy.

Amendment 40 would protect existing seafarer national wage entitlements beyond the 12-mile limit, as the Minister referred to. It seeks to shore up the 2020 regulations that extend the national minimum wage equivalent entitlement to the offshore oil and gas sector, bound by the UK continental shelf, which is 200 nautical miles from the UK coastline. As Ministers have said throughout the passage of the Bill, offshore vessels will be caught if they call at a UK port on or over the minimum number of calls per year. The Government are saying that should be 120; the Opposition say that it should be 50 or 52.

Once again, that highlights two glaring anomalies in the legislation. First, seafarers working from a UK port to an installation on the UK continental shelf and back to a UK port are already entitled to protection of the national minimum wage, regardless of whether the vessel is UK flagged or the nationality of the seafarer. There are serious concerns about how well that is enforced by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, particularly as it is under no obligation to inform unions or others of the outcome of those investigations into third-party complaints. A significant proportion of seafarers qualifying for the national minimum wage in the UK continental shelf are not UK residents. The MCA currently has no responsibility for national minimum wage enforcement, as was repeatedly stressed during the passage of the 2020 regulations. It is vital that enforcement work for that section of the seafarer population is not neglected.

Secondly, seafarers working from a UK port to an offshore wind farm and back to a UK port are not entitled to national minimum wage protection. The Government and the offshore wind industry seem to be relying on the good will of individual developers to commit to voluntary schemes such as the real living wage. I note the Minister’s letter sent yesterday, I think—that is when I received it—on the position of seafarers in the offshore wind turbine supply chain on the continental shelf. That is a very worrying intervention. I am not sure whether the Minister is conflating offshore workers and seafarers. I am not sure how familiar he is with the offshore wind sector, but turbines are not platforms, and they are not staffed in the same way. We hear that the Prime Minister is to split up the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so how does the Minister advise we take this issue up with the appropriate Minister and their officials if it does not come under his responsibility?

In Committee, the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) was quite keen to underplay Labour’s efforts to broaden the scope of the Bill to cover wider seafarer employment conditions as not serious. I urge hon. Members to look at the Government’s woeful performance in this sector.

Many hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is going in to support this vital sector as part of our ambition for zero carbon, and there is a golden opportunity to ensure that the workers in it are properly paid and protected. We need to grow seafarer jobs in the offshore renewable sector, but not with voluntary agreements or voluntary pay rates such as the real living wage. It clearly will not happen with this Bill, and I want to place on record the urgent need for the Government to equalise employment protections for all seafarers and offshore workers, regardless of flag or nationality, working in the UK exclusive economic zone or the UK continental shelf.

There are a number of other points that I want to make, but I will conclude. On its own, this Bill will not break the discriminatory seafarer employment models at P&O Ferries, Irish Ferries or elsewhere, and neither will it return the 600 directly employed seafarer ratings jobs on the Dover-Calais, Hull-Rotterdam or Cairnryan-Larne routes affected by P&O’s callous and profit-driven actions on 17 March last year. We must not lose sight of the fact that with this Bill, we are trying to remedy the plight of the almost 800 seafarers who were notified by recorded message that their employment was being terminated.

I urge the Government to revoke P&O Ferries’ royal charter. It is unthinkable that after this primary legislation was introduced in response to P&O Ferries’ attacks on terms and conditions, the company should continue to derive any benefit—I do not know whether there is any—from the royal charter, which was part of the £3.3 billion deal that DP World paid for the company in 2006. As we approach a year since those shameful actions, I urge Members across the House to support the Opposition amendments, to attempt to bridge the gaps and ensure the best possible deal for our seafarers.

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