On 20 July 2022, the second reading of the Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that seafarers working on ships that use UK ports at least 120 times a year are paid a rate at least equivalent to the UK national minimum wage for work they do while in UK waters. This would apply regardless of the nationality of the seafarer or the flag of the vessel. Currently, seafarers who work on international routes to or from UK ports are not entitled to the national minimum wage if they are not ordinarily resident in the UK; do not work at least to some extent in the UK; or work on non-UK flagged ships.
The bill is part of the government’s nine-point plan in response to the actions of the ferry operator P&O Ferries, which made nearly 800 staff redundant in March 2022 without undertaking the required consultation procedures.
The bill would give harbour authorities the power to request that operators of international services covered by the bill provide a declaration that seafarers working to provide the service would be paid at a rate at least equivalent to the national minimum wage for their work in the UK or its territorial waters if they did not already qualify for the national minimum wage. Harbour authorities could impose a surcharge on service operators if they failed to provide a valid declaration. Harbour authorities could refuse access to the harbour if the operator failed to pay the surcharge. The secretary of state could appoint investigators to verify operators’ compliance. The secretary of state would also have powers to direct how harbour authorities should use their powers, particularly whether or not to impose a surcharge and how much it should be.
Representatives of seafarers have expressed support for increasing wage protection for seafarers, but some have expressed doubts about whether the bill goes far enough. Both union representatives and the national body for ports and harbours have questioned the role of harbour authorities in assuring seafarers’ pay, but the government believes the bill strikes a proportionate balance.