UK-based shipping companies are failing to comply with work permit requirements for employing foreign seafarers in UK waters, Nautilus International has charged.
The seafarers’ union has called on home secretary Theresa May to stop what it considers to be abuses.
But employer organisation the Chamber of Shipping has hit back at the accusation, insisting that the European Union’s open coastlines policy is in the best interests of the industry.
Nautilus has told Ms May that it has fundamental ethical and social concerns over the standards of employment of foreign crews working in domestic shipping services, highlighted by a named general cargoship operating in the UK shortsea trades.
The union argues that the vessel should be covered by work permit requirements, with the employer having to demonstrate that it has satisfied the labour market test by advertising the jobs locally at the domestic rate of pay for such jobs before resorting to seafarers from low cost labour supply countries.
General secretary Mark Dickinson contended that the job could not have been advertised locally, as many seafarers in the area would have been happy to take up such employment.
Nautilus is calling for an urgent investigation by the UK Border Agency, and is urging the minister to clarify Home Office policy on the work permit requirements for foreign seafarers working on ships operating in UK waters, as well as the resources given to ensure that the rules are complied with.
“These are important issues for a maritime nation,” Mr Dickinson said.
“We should not allow seafarers serving on ships around our coastline to receive second-class treatment or enable shipping companies to receive an unfair competitive advantage by ignoring the rules.”
But Tim Springett, head of employment and legal at the Chamber of Shipping, said: “The chamber supports compliance with and enforcement of the law.
“However, it appears that, in this particular case, European regulations liberalising maritime cabotage may be operating to ensure that Europe’s coastlines remain open and the freedom of EU ship operators to provide services is upheld.
“The chamber considers that Europe’s open coastlines policy remains in the wider interests of UK shipping and the UK economy generally, as it ensures that markets elsewhere in Europe are open to British operators and British seafarers.”