British and Irish seafarers demand fair shipping in the Irish Sea

August 1, 2018 - 13:05

Seafaring unions from Ireland and the UK have launched a new offensive to halt the decline of employment opportunities for their national residents. Over the last 30 years, the number of UK ratings in the merchant navy has fallen by two thirds. The reason for this drastic fall is the persistent problem of social dumping caused by unregulated competition and the growing number of vessels flying Flags of Convenience. This means that seafarers from countries with fair wages and decent employment regulations are steadily replaced by seafarers from countries in which these conditions are absent.

One of the last strongholds of European seafarers’ employment is to be found on vessels carrying out regular passenger and ferry services. But even here, the threat of unfair competition looms large. That is why UK-Ireland trade unions SIPTU, RMT and Nautilus recently joined forces on the issue of employment in the Irish Sea.

The three unions’ immediate concern is the decision of Irish Ferries to launch a new ‘super-ferry’ this autumn. So far, the company has offered little assurances concerning the rates of pay for the crew of the Cyprus-registered W.B. Yeats. The unions therefore insist that wages on the new vessel be compliant with the National Minimum Wage legislation in Ireland and the UK.

Employers in the Irish Sea who, either directly or indirectly, employ seafarers payed below the National Minimum Wages are undermining the existing legal framework and preventing local seafarers from competing for work.

Such practices are not just cases of unfair competition. They also undermine the maritime know-how in these European countries with longstanding seafaring traditions. To counter this decline in skill levels, the unions are unanimous in their demand for more jobs and training for both Irish-based and UK-based seafarers.