Britain and France are committed to protecting the rights and welfare of seafarers Ship’s crew

The UK government has launched a new charter for seafarers to ensure fair wages, decent rest and proper training for thousands of UK-based seafarers.

The voluntary charter is part of the UK government’s broader nine-point plan to protect domestic seafarers and strengthen employment protections, launched in response to P&O Ferries’ sudden dismissal of nearly 800 UK ferry workers last year without consultation or notice.

The charter requires employers to pay seafarers for overtime, to provide adequate education and training and to enable seafarers to receive social security benefits. Employers must also plan work shifts with fatigue and safety in mind, provide adequate rest periods, and conduct regular drug and alcohol testing.

A similar initiative was launched by the French government when both nations signed a bilateral agreement to work together to improve conditions for those working in the English Channel ferry sector. British Minister for the Sea, Baroness Vere, was in Paris today to present the charter alongside French Minister for Maritime Affairs, Minister Hervé Berville.

“Fair pay and protection from unlawful discrimination are fundamental rights of every worker. Our seafarers deserve no less,” Minister Vere said. “I therefore expect companies across the maritime sector to sign this charter and show their employees that they are serious about protecting their rights and well-being.”

The Seafarers’ Charter has already been endorsed by DFDS Ferries, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena. “When it comes to seafarers’ wages and working conditions, we believe that all ferry companies should strive for the highest bar and not engage in a race to the bottom,” said Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries.

The charter follows the UK government’s passage in March of the Seafarers’ Wages Act, which strengthens wage protections for domestic seafarers by making it illegal for non-national seafarers to be paid below the national minimum wage on ships calling at the UK. The UK has also introduced a code of conduct which prohibits the use of threats of dismissal to force staff to accept new terms and which requires honest and open discussions with staff and seafarers’ representatives.

While the International Transport Workers’ Federation and European Transport Workers’ Federation welcomed the charter and the intention to improve outcomes for seafarers, they are calling on the UK and France to create and enforce binding minimum rules to help save the ‘troubled’ ferry sector.

“This agreement is a step forward in the right direction. But we need binding standards and sectoral collective bargaining rights,” said ETF General Secretary Livia Spera. “The ETF calls for the introduction of binding employment standards for seafarers on European shipping routes, underpinned by sectoral collective bargaining rights where these currently do not exist.”

“The solution proposed by France and the UK is based on a voluntary agreement by companies to comply with the ‘rules’.” This is not enough as it does not force companies to comply with the rules and does not introduce enforcement mechanisms,” she added.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton joined his European counterpart in calling for mandatory standards to apply to all companies operating ferries in the English Channel, Irish Sea and North Sea.

“We need strong laws that support decent wages and conditions. And when laws are broken, states must take swift enforcement and criminal action,” Cotton said.

“We need a response from P&O Ferries and Irish Ferries to this initiative,” he added. “How these rogue companies react to today’s news will tell us a lot about whether voluntary charters will really be enough to stop the bad behavior we’ve seen over the last few years.”

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