Law firm Reed Smith’s Admiralty Manager, Voirrey Blount (pictured), analysed the new UK and French Government’s Seafarers’ Charter.
This Charter is the next step in the fight to protect domestic seafarers in the UK and builds on the Seafarers’ Wages Act, which was made law in March, 2023.
Both documents are part of the UK Government’s Seafarer Protections Nine Point Plan, which was published in July, 2022.
The Charter’s aim is to ensure proper employment protection for all seafarers, including being paid and treated fairly, irrespective of the flag of the vessel, or the nationality of the seafarer.
In general, its requirements build on the protections already laid out in the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) and it is specifically stated that nothing within the Charter is intended to change the MLC’s minimum requirements.
The Charter already has the support of a large proportion of the cross-channel ferry operators with all UK ship operators being encouraged to sign up to the voluntary agreement.
Operators can apply to the scheme by submitting evidence of their compliance with the Charter’s standards to the UK Department for Transport (DoT), noting that it is only required to demonstrate compliance for routes that have a UK call.
The DoT will then review the provided evidence against the standards and, if successful, the operator will be awarded Verified Seafarers’ Charter status, which is then reviewed on an annual basis.
To meet the Charter’s standards, UK ship operators must be able to show:
1) They are paying at least the UK’s National Minimum Wage equivalent to all eligible seafarers, ie those covered by the Seafarers’ Wages Act.
2) They are paying overtime at a rate of at least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate in the seafarers’ employment agreement. Basic hours are not to exceed 48 with any work over that period being overtime.
3) Adequate training and development is provided to all seafarers, including cadets and trainee ratings.
4) The seafarers’ contracts of employment are not voyage contracts (except in exceptional circumstances), provide for adequate rest between engagements and do not contain any charges for seafarers with respect to their accommodation.
5) They have in place provisions to provide seafarers with the minimum standard in the MLC for an array of benefits, including sickness, pension and maternity. There should also be provisions for paternity and adoption within the policies.
6) All roster patterns take into account the intensity of the route, fatigue, mental health, safety, welfare and operational manning. Risk assessments must be submitted with the rosters. Seafarers must be provided with shore leave between their roster patterns, or when the vessel is in port and the seafarer is off duty.
7) Adequate rest is provided between shifts.
8) All crew receive adequate familiarisation training on the vessel they are working on.
9) Drug and alcohol testing is undertaken at intervals of no longer than 12 months, on both a regular and random basis.
There is nothing new or surprising in the Charter for operators who are working in compliance with the MLC to be startled by, she said.
Reputable operators should not be afraid of signing up to the Charter and it should help to weed out rogue operators who are not providing proper protections to seafarers – looking for the verified status will provide an easy way for seafarers to check they are working for an operator that will treat them fairly, Blount explained.
Seafarers receiving the same employment protections as other UK workers is well overdue. It is very easy to adopt an out of sight out of mind approach to the shipping industry and those working in it.
Whilst currently this only applies to vessels operating with calls to UK ports, there is possible scope for the rules to be extended to UK flagged vessels in the future, which would greatly enhance seafarer protection.
The UK government has plans to further expand the protection, including the development of a statutory code of practice, which will make it explicitly clear to operators/employers that they must not use threats of dismissal to pressure employees into accepting changes to their terms and conditions.
It remains to be seen how many operators will sign up for the Charter but it is certainly a hopeful sign that so many Channel operators have signed up for the initial launch, Blount concluded.