The British Ports Association, the national body for ports and harbours, has reacted to the announcement of a new Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill, announced today as expected in the Queen’s Speech at the beginning of a new Parliamentary session.
The creation of new rules for ports to regulate ships in such a way is unprecedented. Enforcing the minimum wage is not an area where ports have a core competency. This should be a job for the Maritime & Coastguard Agency or HM Revenue & Customs. Ports facilitate the safe and efficient movement of ships, goods, passengers and maritime activities, safely and efficiently, they are not regulators.
It remains unclear whether the Bill will achieve the Government’s aims of improving long-standing issues for seafarers. Our initial assessment is that it might not be compatible with the UK’s obligations under international treaties or the current principles which governs our independent ports sector.
We will continue to work closely with Government on this to explore options which will enable it to enforce standards across the seafarer community.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced new legislation would be brought forward following P&O Ferries’ redundancy decision in March.
The Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill is expected to place a duty on ports handling certain vessels to ensure that seafarers on board are being paid the UK minimum wage. This could affect ferries but also reportedly other ships.
These types of responsibilities might usually fall to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency as the UK’s Port State Control agency. However the Government believes that it is not possible for them to do this under the UK’s obligations to international maritime law as each vessel is subject to the rules, including wage regulations, of it’s flag state (the country where the ship is registered). Ministers believe they can get around this by placing an obligation on ports instead to make the arrangements ‘domestic’.
The BPA is concerned at the expectations of UK Government to use ports as a tool to police shipping. The industry is not equipped for these challenges which are more typically given to government agencies.
There are 36 Government agencies in the UK with powers at the border, including HMRC and Border Force. Government ports policy across the four nations of the UK over the past three decades has been to support an independent and open ports sector. This has been successful in delivering a ports industry that is resilient and prepared significant sums of private capital in skills and infrastructure.
A consultation on the Bill will open shortly.