Cargo boat crewmembers being paid under £4 an hour

Union leaders and politicians have demanded action following news that some crewmembers on Northern Isles cargo boats were being paid less than £4 an hour.

The RMT Union has blasted the hourly rate for staff onboard the Hildasay and Helliar as “poverty pay”.

It has launched an online petition calling for all seafarers on Scottish government contracts to be given at least the minimum wage.

Although the Scottish government contract was awarded to Serco back in 2012, the running of the cargo boats has been outsourced to Seatruck, based in Heysham, which pays the crews onboard the vessels.

Seatruck says applying the national minimum wage would place it at a serious disadvantage with its competitors. It says that, under current legislation, the national minimum wage is not applicable to the crew of the vessels, adding that the Estonian workers involved are deemed not to be ordinarily working in the UK.

RMT spokesman Gordon Martin said: “The most up-to-date figures we have is they are getting paid £3.66 per hour.

“This is a Scottish government contract, the Northern Isles ferry service, and it is totally unacceptable that these workers from Estonia are being paid way below the UK national minimum wage.”

Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf said: “That’s an unacceptable situation. Transport Scotland will be in touch with Serco. Serco will offer to pay the national minimum wage, and backdate that on behalf of the company.

“That offer I would urge the company, Seatruck, to take up. I will also write to the UK shipping minister to say they should impose that minimum wage on non-UK nationals, regardless of whether they are working in international waters or not if they are working on UK contracts.”

Mr Martin welcomed Mr Yousaf’s comments.

“But I would qualify that by saying this has been raised with Derek Mackay, who was the transport minister before Humza Yousaf, and indeed with Keith Brown, who was the transport minister before Derek Mackay.

“We’ve had warm words and no action. This time we expect action, and that action must be to the satisfaction of us at the RMT that the matter has been dealt with properly.

“If the matter hasn’t been dealt with properly we are going to campaign, and continue to campaign, to get justice for the seafarers involved.”

The Scottish government says Serco NorthLink was initially unaware that workers were being paid below the UK minimum wage. It brought it to the attention of Transport Scotland as soon as the unions raised the issue.

Officials say Serco NorthLink has already made offers to Seatruck to bring the pay of crew up to minimum wage level. But Seatruck has not accepted the offers.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Scottish ministers are strongly of the view that all workers employed on Scottish government funded contracts – including through sub contracts – should be paid the national minimal wage, if not the living wage, and deem the current situation with Seatruck unacceptable.

“The minister for transport and the islands will ask Serco NorthLink Ferries to write to Seatruck a further time, repeating the offer to fund the gap to bring the pay of crew members up to the national minimum wage, and he urges the company to accept that offer. The minister will also write to the UK government to ask them to take action on this.

“Ministers are currently considering all available options to strengthen future ferry contracts to include a formal requirement for the national minimum wage, and preferably the living wage, to be paid to all employees.”


Add Your Comment
  • Sandy McDonald

    • October 28th, 2016 13:32

    There is a fix for this – enact legislation that requires foreign works to be paid at the same rate as native workers (equivalent for the job – not simply minimum wage). Australia already has such a law and enforces it.

  • David Spence

    • October 28th, 2016 17:45

    What surprises me Sandy, is how Serco got away with this practice without the Scottish Office knowing about it? This is the perception one gets?

    Surely there should have been legislation in corporated within the contract Serco received would have had this in place? However, there could also have been loop-holes in the contract where Serco could have taken advantage of in terms of reducing costs to themselves?

    Whatever this may have been, I agree that the crew, regardless of where they are from, should have been paid atleast a living wage.

    This could also, possibly, be an insight into how workers will be paid under Brexit, when the UK leaves the EU, and such terms will be under ‘ market forces ‘. The UK will be nothing but a ‘ slave nation of workers ‘ under Brexit and the impending doom of TTIP hitting the country.

    Why do you think this Government had the EU Referendum when they did?

  • john ridland

    • October 28th, 2016 17:47

    Not only is serco screwing the fare paying public ,and the government/ tax payers . But now doing it with slave labour….!!!!!!

  • Bruce smith

    • October 28th, 2016 20:44

    Well a British Union is concerned about foreign seaman .
    Off the 5 boats than supply Shetland Orkney only 2 off them has British crew .
    Most countries in the world if a boat has a contract inside that countiery it has to have
    A majority native crew if not all crew . Why is the the UK not the same .

  • Alistair Mullay

    • October 28th, 2016 23:42

    This is really disgusting. These guys are away from home, working to provide for their families and being exploited by a rich country taking advantage of loopholes in regulations – regulations made by authorities who are well aware of how these regulations can be interpreted.

  • JohnFlett

    • October 29th, 2016 8:55

    Estonian average wage is £2.44 per hour so as the workers are live aboard as well ,£3.66 +board & lodgings is probably 3 times as much as they would get at home ,to put them on UK minimum wage would put them in competition with UK workers who dont have language and culture differences ,I believe that would be a no brainer ,and would not go down well with the present workers,If you were to ask them.

    • Laurence Paton

      • October 30th, 2016 22:00

      Your Comment doe not make sense.

      • Laurence Paton

        • October 31st, 2016 13:34

        In my opinion the British seafarers won’t be unhappy if they are paid the same and the foreign seafarer’s would also be delighted if on the same pay.
        A very good friend of mine who has sadly just passed away , a Russian Chief engineer, once said to me, ” on the ship we have no nationality, we are seamen. Shipmates”.
        Having now worked for 10 years on foreign going ships with multinational crews we want to see everybody on board get fair pay & the same leave time regardless of country of origin.

  • john flett

    • October 29th, 2016 16:02

    Estonians on the boat get 2-3 times the local Estonia wage ,bring the wages up to UK levels and there wont be an incentive to employ them,

    • Sandy McDonald

      • October 31st, 2016 9:18

      Thats kind of the idea of a Cabotage law John! But paying the crew of a cargo ship even in the living wage will be more cost effective than employing “UK Workers” And anyone working in the UK should be getting the living wage. If it is true that local lads were laid off only to be replaced by cheaper labour then this is a disgrace. In Australia it applies to all vessels, foreign flag or not – so all nationalities get the equivalent Australian wages when the vessels are trading in and between Australian ports. Shipping companies hate it as you may imagine, the lads love it.

  • David Spence

    • October 29th, 2016 20:26

    I may be wrong, but are some people basing a ‘ british wage ‘ on a wage from the country a particular worker may come from?

    If this is the case, may be we should pay Shetlanders who make Shetland jumpers and other Shetland knitted wear, a staggering 25 pence a day for their work? The same rate a person gets paid in a third world country for making Primark, Niki and other so-called ‘ designer goods ‘.

    Would people object to this form of exploitation?

  • Mike McEwan

    • October 30th, 2016 9:12

    I am pretty certain that locals lost their jobs when Seatruck took over the contract and nobody seemed to complain then.

  • John Flett

    • October 30th, 2016 14:36

    On maritime the lists of UK ferrys have mv daroja as the lowest paid ,flagged in Cyprus and crewed by Indians/Russians at £2.25 per hour,NONE of Uks ferrys are flagged in UK nor have crew from UK ,so they do not have to abide to the UK national wage,the union kicking up at the wage”s paid must know this I would assume , but maybe not.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • October 30th, 2016 17:15

    These sailors are working in British waters they should get British wages, if they don’t then the vessel operators are doing British sailors (if there any left) out of a job by using foreign sailors and paying slave wages. If this had happened in the seventies the dockers would have refused to load and unload the vessels. So where are the Unions in this? There was a time when unions would strive to negotiate proper pay and conditions for the working man. Today’s unions are too busy trying to bring down democratically elected governments, rather than protect the working man. Estonia joined the EU ten years ago so why is there no parity in wages when these exploited workers are working in UK waters. It looks to me like a massive fail for all those concerned, the EU, UK government, the unions but most of all the Scottish government who award lifeline contracts to companies who put profits before people.

  • Laurence Paton

    • October 30th, 2016 21:55

    David Spence.
    This is an insight into how it is now!
    Whilst in the E.U. !

    There is an even more dismal case of Irish seafarer’s who were members of the Irish Seafarers union losing their livelihoods to other E.U. nationals.
    Fully fledged E.U. citizens losing their jobs to other cheaper fully fledged E.U. citizens..

    • Laurence Paton

      • October 31st, 2016 13:05

      ” In Ireland, the first of these labour disputes in 2005 was aboard a vessel which sailed between Irish ports and the mainland of Britain, operated by the Irish Ferries company. The Irish Ferries management had smuggled Latvian and Lithuanian workers accompanied by security guards onto one ferry disguised as ‘passengers’ who then emerged on deck as the future low-cost replacement crew. This provoked the ship’s captain and officers to initiate an ‘anti-piracy’ secure lockdown which continued as an occupation in port for a protracted period involving two Irish Ferries vessels. For the Irish trade unions which had closely partnered with the national employers in obtaining the significant benefits in terms of jobs and investment that had accompanied European Union membership, this action by one of their own native employers was a profound shock. Less than a year after the dispute ended, the majority of the nearly 500 existing permanent unionized staff had been replaced by lower-cost foreign agency crews. The Seamen’s Union of Ireland (SUI) lost representation among the new workforce and the number of unionized onshore staff was also reduced by three-quarters, while Irish Ferries secured labour cost savings amounting to approximately 11.5 million euros per year.”

  • Mike McEwan

    • October 31st, 2016 12:53

    The RMT are involved Gordon the article makes that clear.
    The RMT has been campaigning for a while against social dumping on UK operated ships. I suppose this is part of the bigger campaign. Not sure what more they can do though as these guys are unlikely to be union members. The locals payed off probably were though. I live near one of them so can check that next time I see him.
    I think it is quite difficult to bring the kind of industrial action we have seen in the past nowadays.
    I will just point out that the Estonians won’t be paying any tax, but still is a small wage.

    • Laurence Paton

      • October 31st, 2016 15:00

      So with British seafarer’s no doubt ending up on welfare support and the replacement foreign crew not paying any UK income tax that has to be a significant hole in the pocket of the chancellor of the exchequer.
      Is it any wonder the UK taxation system runs at a huge loss and the national debt just keep’s on rising.


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