Know your rights

What does the UK Seafarers’ Charter mean for you?

By Voirrey Blount

In July 2023, the UK government launched a new Seafarers’ Charter in conjunction with the French government. The aim is to protect domestic seafarers in the UK as part of the UK Government’s seafarer protections nine- point plan from July 2022.

The aim is to provide seafarers with proper employment protections and a right to be paid and treated fairly, regardless of the vessel’s flag. But the question for seafarers is – what does this mean for me?

The most important point to bear in mind is that this Charter is voluntary. That means it will only apply to you if the company you work for has signed up for it.

Currently, the only firms that have signed up include Condor, DFDS, Stena Line, and Brittany Ferries. If you don’t work for one of these companies, the Charter does not apply to you as of November 2023.

If it does apply, then you have the right to be paid at least the UK National Minimum Wage if the ship is calling at UK ports at least 120 times a year. If you do not think you are receiving the right hourly rate, then you should talk to your union rep.

The second right you have is to receive overtime at a rate of at least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate in your seafarer employment agreement (SEA) for anything over the basic hours in your contract or anything over 48 hours if nothing is specified. Check your contract for what your basic hours are; they cannot be over 48 hours under the Charter. If they are, then raise this with HR; you should be receiving overtime for anything over that 48-hour period.

Your SEA must not be on a voyage- by-voyage basis (unless there has been some sort of exceptional circumstance).

The SEA must include provisions for adequate rest, and you cannot be charged for your accommodation on the vessel. This should already be the case under the Maritime Labour Convention, but you should discuss with your union if you are continually being given voyage-by-voyage SEAs.

Training provision

You also have the right to receive adequate training and development regardless of your rank or position. This could take many forms and you should discuss with your head of department or HR if you want more information on the training on offer. On joining a vessel, you should be given familiarisation training. If you never received this then you should discuss this with your head of department or line manager.

You also have the right to a roster that properly takes into account fatigue, mental health, safety, welfare, operational manning and intensity of the route. It should also give you adequate rest between your shifts.

The company must submit a risk assessment with the rosters, and you can ask to see this if you have concerns that the roster has not been properly assessed.

You also have the right to shore leave between your roster patterns and when the vessel is in port if you are off duty. If you are not being allowed shore leave you should discuss this with your head of department.

Finally, drug and alcohol testing will take place at intervals not exceeding 12 months and will be done on both a random and regular basis. This is just something to bear in mind if it is a change to your company’s previous policy.

Overall, you may not see a great change to your rights under the Charter compared with your position before. It should, however, give you peace of mind that your employer takes your rights seriously and wants to encourage a good working environment. It also means you should feel confident in challenging any issues you see as a potential failure to comply with the provisions of the Charter.

Voirrey Blount is admiralty manager at global law firm Reed Smith.