TUC 2012: In less than 12 months' time the international Maritime Labour Convention will come into force, having been ratified by over 30 countries.
This so-called Bill of Rights for seafarers should go a long way to end the frequent and appalling cases of foreign crew members suffering exploitation and substandard pay and conditions on ships operating in UK waters.
My union, Nautilus International, has repeatedly pressed British government ministers to ratify this critically important convention.
I am appalled that despite its obvious benefits and the detrimental effect not ratifying will have upon seafarers serving on UK-flagged ships Britain continues to delay ratification.
Indeed, we understand that it will not be in a position to ratify until the middle of next year at the earliest.
Ironically the delays to ratification are being caused by the government's drive against "red tape" which requires all new regulations to be subjected to detailed impact assessment and scrutiny.
However, the costs of continued delay will be far greater than the costs of rapid compliance.
The exploitation of seafarers from non-EU states in British waters increases during times of economic difficulties and poor global maritime trade.
The situation is made more difficult by the confusing legal position regarding work permits for seafarers working on ships registered in EU states and operating in our waters.
I recently wrote to the Home Secretary calling for an urgent investigation of foreign seafarers in UK waters and for clarification of this apparent loophole.
This problem was highlighted by the Cyprus-registered vessel Daroja, which was operating a freight ferry service between Aberdeen and Orkney crewed by Filipino and eastern European seafarers on wages below that of British seafarers.
The company that owned the Daroja - Streamline Shipping - had also submitted a bid to the Scottish government to operate Scotland's Northern Isles lifeline ferry services.
My union contended that crew members should have been covered by Tier 2 work permits and their jobs advertised at local rates of pay.
If they had been, I am positive then there would have been locally based, well qualified applicants.
In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of foreign seafarers working within UK waters on pay rates well below the national minimum wage and on inferior conditions.
Shipping is a highly globalised industry with a very international workforce, but these trends have raised fundamental legal and ethical questions about the employment and pay practices on vessels working around the coast.
This is an important issue for a maritime nation - we should not allow seafarers serving on ships around our coastline to receive second-class treatment or enable shipping companies to receive an unfair competitive advantage by ignoring the rules.
Nautilus is calling on the TUC at this year's Congress to back calls for Britain to urgently ratify the Maritime Labour Convention and to ensure that vulnerable seafarers are properly protected when operating in UK waters.
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