Maritime trade unions Nautilus and the RMT are jointly campaigning against proposals to undermine wage rates on British merchant ships. Government intentions to abandon any pretence at equality of wage rates between UK crews and overseas crews covered by EU regulations or economic areas associated with the EU (read old empires and colonies) are being accelerated by its unwillingness to challenge the shipping companies.
The message from the shipowners is simple: let us use unregulated low-cost labour or we re-flag the entire British merchant fleet abroad. Unsurprisingly the government has rolled over and welcomed not only cheap labour but the cheapest labour the ship owners can find.
In another blow to British shipping Maersk, Britain’s largest trainer of seafarers and one of the largest employers, has announced a 30 per cent reduction of training staff – despite a joint employer and trade union approach to the government in 2007 with proposals to restructure and improve seafarer training.
To date the government has not responded. Maersk has obviously taken this as a signal that the government has no interest in marine safety or skill. With 90 per cent of Britain’s imports and exports still delivered by ship, this makes a mockery of safety, maritime expertise or even the concept of Britain being an island and maritime nation.
The government’s abdication of responsibility for Britain’s maritime past and future with a blithe acceptance of unskilled, untrained, and lowest-paid crews will undoubtedly lead to loss of lives and ships around Britain’s coasts.