The UK government has joined forces with several maritime operators to launch a Seafarer’s Charter. It aims to guarantee thousands of seafarers’ fundamental rights, including fair wages, proper rest periods and training.
The Charter is a voluntary agreement, which is intended to establish high standards for seafarers’ working conditions and welfare. It comes as part of the Department for Transport’s (DFT) nine-point plan for seafarers, which it devised following the mass redundancies at P&O Ferries in March 2022. The plan’s goal is to protect seafarers and boost employment protections, ensuring they are paid and treated fairly, irrespective of nationality. If any aspect of the Charter conflicts with mandatory regulations, the higher standard will take precedence.
Key players in the shipping industry, including DFDS Ferries, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena, have pledged their support for the Charter. The French government has launched a similar initiative as part of joint working with the UK to improve conditions for those working in the Channel.
While the Charter is not limited to a specific set of vessels, it focuses particularly on those covered by the Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023 (SWA 2023). This Act set out minimum wage requirements for seafarers. Under the SWA 2023, it is illegal to fail to pay the thousands of seafarers that regularly enter the UK at least the equivalent of the UK National Minimum Wage.
The Charter includes the following standards to which employers must adhere:
- paying seafarers at least the National Minimum Wage;
- paying overtime at a rate of at least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate;
- ensuring seafarers receive adequate training and development opportunities;
- providing employees with full, indefinite contracts to ensure job security;
- enabling seafarers to access social security benefits, such as sickness benefits, family benefits and medical care;
- implementing roster patterns that take into account fatigue, mental health and safety considerations; and
- allowing sufficient rest periods between shifts and rosters to prevent exhaustion.
These standards will be subject to review after one year and thereafter at least every three years. Maritime operators that can demonstrate compliance with the Charter’s standards may apply to the DFT for Verified Seafarer Charter status. The DFT will re-evaluate this status on an annual basis to ensure ongoing adherence to the Charter. It will maintain a public register of operators that hold Verified Seafarer Charter status and those who are progressing towards it.
The government does not want the Charter to replace effective dialogue between local worker and employer representatives. Nonetheless, it represents a significant step in safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of seafarers in the UK.