NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Holyrood steps in over Northern Isles cargo ship pay row

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Media captionScottish government intervenes in Serco Northlink low pay

The Scottish government has stepped in after a union claimed some staff on Northern Isles cargo boats are being paid almost half the minimum wage.

The freight vessels Hellier and Hildasay are operated by Seatruck, which is contracted to run the service by Serco Northlink.

The RMT said some workers are being paid less than £4 an hour.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said Serco Northlink would be asked to make sure a national minimum wage was paid.

Seatruck said under current legislation the national minimum wage (NMW) was not applicable to the crew of the vessels - many of whom are non-UK residents.

The RMT started an online petition over the issue.

The union's Gordon Martin said: "The most up-to-date figures we have is they are getting paid £3.66 per hour.

"This is a Scottish government contract.

"It's totally unacceptable that these workers from Estonia are being paid way below the UK national minimum wage."

Serco Northlink was awarded the six-year £243m Northern Isles contract in 2012.

It operates three ferries and two cargo boats to the Northern Isles.

'Serious disadvantage'

Seatruck said in a statement: "The freight ferries Helliar and Hildasay have been operating successfully for many years on the lifeline service to the Northern Isles.

"The Seatruck Ferries vessels are on long-term charter to the concession holder Serco Northlink.

"Under the current legislation the national minimum wage is not applicable to the crew of these vessels.

"The crew are not deemed to be 'ordinarily working in the UK' as they are working on a non-UK flagged vessel, are not UK residents, do not pay tax or NI in the UK and start and finish their tours of duty in their home countries.

"The vessels comply with all relevant legislation and operate a reliable high-quality service.

"Seatruck Ferries operates in a worldwide shipping market where NMW application in isolation would place the company at a serious disadvantage in relation to its competitors."

Backdate pay

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: "Crew members are not receiving the minimum wage, that cannot be right.

"They are members of staff, they are European citizens, they are working in Scotland, they should be receiving the wages that are due to them."

Mr Yousaf, who described it as an "unacceptable situation", told BBC Scotland: "Transport Scotland will be in touch with Serco.

"Serco will offer to pay the national minimum wage and backdate that on behalf of the company. That offer I would urge Seatruck to take up."

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