A shipping company contracted to provide lifeline cargo services to Orkney and Shetland has remained defiant over the low pay of its staff after a union waged a protest in Aberdeen yesterday.
Seatruck Ferries, which runs freight vessels Helliar and Hildasay under contract to Serco Northlink Ferries (SNF), yesterday admitted that almost half of its crew are paid less than the UK minimum wage but claimed the rate was “not applicable” to its staff.
Shipping union RMT took to the streets to decry the pay practices as “modern-day slavery in Scottish waters”. The group called on Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf to step in as the contract is ultimately controlled by the Scottish Government.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is a scandal that ships of shame are sailing out of Aberdeen, with workers on poverty rates that make a mockery of our legal minimum wage, under a contract that is under the control of the SNP administration.
“This outrage, which is a stain on the reputation of the great city of Aberdeen, has to be ended and ended now.
“RMT is demanding urgent talks with the minister and an assurance that he will step in immediately to end this modern-day slavery in Scottish waters.”
Seatruck is based in Dublin but was taken over by Danish shipping firm, Clipper Group, in 2002.
Clipper, which is registered in the tax haven of the Bahamas, is owned and managed by father and son team, Torben and Frank Jensen.
A spokesman for Seatruck denied RMT’s claims that workers on the Northern Isles Seatruck vessels are being paid £3.66 an hour, compared to the UK statutory minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s. But he admitted some were paid less than £4.60 per hour.
He said: “Under current legislation, the UK national minimum wage (NMW) is not applicable to crews of the Helliar and Hildasay as they are not deemed to be ‘ordinarily working in the UK’.
“They start and finish their tours of duty in their home countries, they are working on non-UK-flagged vessels, they are not resident in the UK and they do not pay tax or national insurance in the UK.
“The seafarers are Estonian or Polish nationals earning multiple times the NMW for their countries of residence.”
The spokesman added: “More than half the workers on board get the equivalent of the NMW or more. No workers on board are paid less than £4.60 an hour.”
He claimed that the UK Government and the UK Chamber of Shipping have “confirmed that the NMW does not apply in this instance”.
But Transport Scotland said the firm’s pay levels are “unacceptable” and has called on UK Government “to take action on this”.
Callum McCaig, MP for Aberdeen South, said: “All workers deserved to be paid at least the national minimum wage if not the living wage and RMT Union know that is my view, and that I and my SNP colleagues completely condemn the actions of Seatruck to underpay staff and I will taking immediate action to contact Serco and Seatruck myself to reiterate that.”
Bahamas-based shipper has previously rejected an offer from SNF to make the pay up to the minimum wage, which would be reimbursed by Transport Scotland, as Seatruck’s “fleet-wide pay structure which would be distorted by acceptance”.
Stuart Garrett, managing director at NorthLink Ferries, said: “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.”