NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

RMT protest held in Aberdeen over Northern Isles ferry wages

Protest in Aberdeen

A protest has been held in Aberdeen over claims 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 union has said some workers were being paid less than £4 an hour.

Seatruck said the national minimum wage was not applicable to the crew, many of whom are non-UK residents.

RMT members were at Aberdeen harbour on Friday morning as part of an ongoing campaign.

'Terminate this contract'

Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT in Aberdeen and vice chair of the offshore co-ordinating group of trade unions, told the Good Morning Scotland programme that as recently as last year, workers were being paid as little as £3.66 an hour.

Since then, there had only been small improvements in pay, he said.

"This morning's campaign is to highlight to the public what's going on in our name," he said.

"This is a government-tendered contract where workers are being exploited simply to increase the return for the operating company.

"The Scottish government has said that they're asking the UK government, they're asking Parliament to look at the National Minimum Wage etcetera, but the reality is that the Scottish government has the ability simply to terminate this contract.

"It is a contract that is tendered to the Scottish government and the Scottish government should be interfering right now and set the benchmark for the UK because this exploitation goes way beyond just these workers on this vessel."

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

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "Scottish ministers are strongly of the view that all workers employed on Scottish government-funded contracts - including through sub-contracts - should be paid the National Minimal Wage, if not the Living Wage, and deem the current situation with Seatruck unacceptable.

"The Minister for Transport and the Islands has asked Serco NorthLink Ferries to write to Seatruck a further time, repeating the offer to fund the gap to bring the pay of crew members up to the National Minimum Wage and he urges the company to accept that offer.

"Serco Northlink Ferries have advised us they have written as requested. The minister will also write to the UK government to ask them to take action on this.

"Ministers are currently considering all available options to strengthen future ferry contracts to include a formal requirement for the National Minimum Wage, and preferably the Living Wage, to be paid to all employees."

'Serious disadvantage'

Seatruck said in a statement: "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.

"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."

Stuart Garrett, managing director at NorthLink Ferries, said: "We are aware that the RMT held a protest this morning in Aberdeen to highlight the ongoing issue with Seatruck's rate of pay to their crew members.

"Serco charters two cargo vessels from Seatruck as part of the NorthLink ferry service in Scotland.

"Since being advised of this issue we have sought to ensure that all workers on the service receive the UK minimum wage irrespective of the specific legal requirements.

"We have been trying to address the issue with Seatruck since 2014, and have repeatedly made offers to pay them an amount that would fully cover the additional cost of paying the UK minimum wage.

"Seatruck, part of the Clipper Group, have refused to accept this offer."

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.

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