Unions say government wants to hide the failure of ‘light touch’ legislation to stop shipping companies paying foreign workers rates well below National Minimum Wage

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Unions have held the first of two protests against what they see as the exploitation of overseas workers by shipping companies, so-called ‘social dumping’.

(Pictured: RMT and Unite activists demonstrate in Southampton. Image courtesy of Ewa Jasziewicz)

The International Transport Federation is joining the demonstrations, in Portsmouth and Southampton against the practice – defined by the EU as exporting workers from states with weak or poorly enforced labour standards, where costs such as wages are artificially lower than the host country.

The RMT says today’s demonstration in Southampton docks is designed to raise awareness of the impact of social dumping in the cruise industry.

Unite activists have also taken part in the protest.

A protest in Portsmouth on Saturday is targeting the Condor Ferries company.

According to the RMT, the firm employs Ukrainian seafarers on £2.35 per hour (£28.12 per day for a 12 hour shift) to work 3 months on and 1 month off unpaid on routes between Portsmouth, Weymouth or Poole and the Channel Islands.

The UK National Minimum Wage is £6.08 per hour for workers over 21 years old.

Campaigners say the Condor Ferries case confirms that shipping companies are not deterred by new EU regulations designed to prevent the practice.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The super-exploitation of foreign nationals in the British shipping industry is a massive scandal that the political elite want to keep quiet.

“That’s no surprise as it’s their wealthy mates running the shipping companies who benefit from this scam that dodges normal employment regulations while the European Union turns a blind eye.

“Social dumping is a mechanism seized on by some of the most rotten employers in the book to dry and batter down wages and conditions.

“RMT members and their supporters have the full support of the union for this weeks’ protests in Southampton and Portsmouth.”

Critics say the Coalition’s ‘light touch’ regulations in the Equality Act leave seafarers vulnerable to exploitation.

The International Transport Federation says current legislation still allows the UK shipping industry to pay lower wages to seafarers from non-EU countries.

Stephen Cotton, ITF maritime co-ordinator, said: “The behaviour of Condor Ferries is utterly scandalous.

“The company is recruiting Ukrainian seafarers specifically so that it can exploit them by paying way below the National Minimum Wage.

This is cynical behaviour which goes entirely against the spirit of new legislation introduced last September.”

RMT National Secretary Steve Todd said: “The fight to stop the scandal of social dumping remains a national priority for RMT and we will continue to step up the campaign to turn the spotlight on the shameful practices that this ConDem government continues to legitamise in the British shipping industry.”


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