One thing guaranteed to raise the hackles of any maritime trade unionist in Britain is the mention of flags of convenience. The ability to operate a merchant vessel at what is often perceived as a discounted cost is an anathema to anyone who feels this leads to a dilution, not just of wages, but often of safety standards. Shipping union RMT has a national campaign 'SOS 2020', a title selected as the union says that year thousands of UK working ratings will retire, with native replacements likely to be thin on the ground. This Saturday, 30 September, will see an event in Hull to promote the message.
The RMT says it will be using the Hull protest to point out that as an island nation, and net importer, the UK’s economic, social and security interests depend upon seafarers and a resilient British maritime skills base. The event will be held outside the Hull Maritime Museum, Queen Victoria Square, Hull HU1 3DX between 10am and 4pm. A map to the venue can be downloaded here.
The union points out the £3+ billion of UK GDP derived directly from the 496 million tonnes of maritime freight handled from ships at UK ports, whilst 95% of all imported and exported goods in the UK are transported by ship. The exclusion of seafarers’ from full employment or equality rights, low levels of training and the rise of Flags of Convenience registers, including those in the Red Ensign Group (e.g. the Isle of Man and Bermuda) it says have driven a decline in UK Ratings and Officers from 58,000 in the 1980s to 23,380 in 2015, whilst non-UK Ratings continue to be recruited on rates of pay below the legal UK minimum.
It estimates that last year £31.5 million of earnings were not paid to seafarers working from UK ports by ship owners employing cheaper foreign hands, and claims this is unfair competition which blocks UK seafarers’ access to work, damages the maritime skills base and drives down employment standards, training and pay across the industry. Since 2011, UK Ratings have fallen by 25% and the total number of UK seafarers decreased by over 13%. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:
“The RMT is determined that the future of our maritime industry is not ignored and ports like Hull have a huge amount at stake economically and industrially if we allow central Government to continue to allow the decimation of UK shipping. As part of our SOS2020 campaign the RMT is demanding jobs, training and the end of the race to the bottom on pay and working conditions. Our objective is simple – a guaranteed future for the UK shipping industry based on the development of a skilled and expanded domestic workforce that will secure the economy of areas like Hull well into the future.
Mr Cash’s view was supported by the RMT National Secretary Steve Todd, who added:
“The RMT will be out in force in Hull on Saturday setting out our objectives for the union’s SOS2020 campaign. For too long our maritime sector has been ravaged by social dumping and the flouting of pay and employment regulations at the expense of UK ratings jobs. That scandal has to end and RMT will be challenging the Government to match their rhetoric about a post-Brexit future for UK shipping with concrete action on jobs, training and working conditions.”