BRITISH-flag vessels should be forced to pay the same rates to seafarers irrespective of nationality, according to a government-sponsored review published this afternoon.
The study concludes that salary equalisation would effect over 15,000 foreign seafarers on UK-registered ships, and would cost employers £259m a year. Even so, shipping was judged not to constitute a special case.
The recommendations, written by former civil servant Susan Carter, and known as the Carter review, were instantly attacked by the Chamber of Shipping, who blasted them for alleged “breathtaking ignorance” of the way the industry works.
Legislation to this effect would spell the demise of the Red Ensign, as ships registered in the UK would immediately switch to cheaper option, a spokesman added.
Employer sources pointed out that the Carter review was commissioned under the Labour government that lost office last month, and were hopeful that the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition could be persuaded not to go ahead.
But seafarers unions hailed the report as a major step forward, and noted the irony that a key demand persistently refused under 13 years of Labour government might now reach fruition under a Conservative-led administration.
A statement from shipping minister Mike Penning said that interested parties would be given two weeks to comment, after which he has promised to report back to parliament.
Ms Carter said that she was asked to consider two options, namely outlawing nationality differentials altogether (option A), or restricting equalisation to EU nationals (option B).
She considered submissions from the Chamber of Shipping, which rejected both options; the RMT ratings union and other labour movement bodies including the Trades Union Congress, which backed the first option; and Anglo-Dutch seafarer union Nautilus International, which supported a variation of the second option.
In considering the arguments, she accepted that the competitiveness of UK-flag ships would be hit, particularly in the container trades, and that some vessels would flag out, albeit not as many as the Chamber of Shipping fears.
The impact of either option on the UK maritime cluster was described as “highly uncertain”, although this was described as a “minor consideration”. The impact of either option on the UK economy overall is likely to be small, Ms Carter maintained.
However, both must be considered in the light of the Equality Act 2010, which is intended to bring “better outcomes for those who experience disadvantage”.
In the end, Ms Carter concludes unambiguously: “Option A would bring the shipping industry in line with other industries. There seemed no reason why shipping should be made a special case.
“On the basis of the evidence submitted, I recommend outlawing the practice of nationality-based pay differentials for seafarers altogether.”
Mark Brownrigg, director general of the Chamber of Shipping, argued: “In choosing to accept the arguments put forward by the TUC and the RMT – neither of which have any significant direct involvement in the deepsea fleet – the consultant’s recommendations lack any basis of reality or appreciation of the national interest.”
“Because she disbelieves the industry’s warnings, she completely misses the point about flagging out and its wider impacts on the UK maritime cluster and the UK economy , and its relationship to the last government’s policy of growing the UK register, which is supported by the new government.”
But Steve Todd, RMT national secretary for shipping, welcomed the report. He said: “We now urge the new government to do the right thing and implement the equality regulations on the basis of the conclusion of this review.
“Although the Government are asking for any further comments in the next two weeks we hope that this won’t lead to any further delays and RMT will be seeking an urgent meeting with the government and we trust that the regulations will be implemented at the very earliest opportunity afterwards .”
Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson commented: “We are very pleased that this review has upheld the arguments we made, and we welcome the government’s announcement. This issue has dragged on for far too long and we hope that it can now be quickly resolved.”
A pdf of the Carter review can be downloaded from http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/shippingports/shipping/diffpay/
Source: LLOYD’S LIST