Shadow cabinet members heard from a ferry captain and industry representatives about the challenges and opportunities facing the maritime sector at a Nautilus-sponsored event during the Labour Party's annual conference in Brighton.
At the Maritime Roundtable, held on 28 September, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon MP and shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard MP discussed a wide range of issues including the crew change crisis, maritime skills and the need for a just transition to a greener future.
Opening the event, Nautilus council member Captain Fraser Matthew, who works in the ferry sector, delivered a keynote speech during which he called on the opposition to 'lead the charge in putting maritime on the agenda.'
Captain Matthew spoke of his pride in the way that his fellow seafarers 'kept the world moving when everything else seemed to stop' during the pandemic, but also expressed concern that their contribution came at a 'huge personal cost'.
He called on the Labour Party to play its part in raising the profile of seafarers and the maritime sector, arguing that there is a 'lack of awareness among the public, media and to be frank many politicians about our dependence on the maritime sector.'
'Even during the height of the pandemic when delivery drivers and supermarket workers were rightly recognised as key workers, I can't recall a mention of seafarers or the maritime sector,' he added.
He said that this lack of focus on the maritime sector 'impacts the ability of maritime to attract investment, makes it more difficult to recruit the next generation of UK seafarers and allows some of the key players in the industry to operate in ways that would simply not be tolerated in any other sector.'
As well as calling on Labour to 'speak up for seafarers' in order to tackle this sea blindness, Captain Matthew also set out some of the skills challenges that the sector faces. He asked the opposition to press the government on 'increasing investment in the SMarT scheme to cover 100% of the cost of training UK-resident seafarers and require a commitment from employers to guarantee a period of employment on completion of a cadetship.'
Jim McMahon MP, who paid tribute to the role of maritime workers during his conference speech a day earlier, responded to Captain Matthew: 'I appreciate the frustration that is felt by workers who have been keeping the country going but have felt invisible. I get that in a profound way from people who work in maritime.
'More broadly, I also think that the UK doesn't value skilled working-class jobs and they are often taken for granted. What history should have taught us is that when they go, they don't come back. If we don't value them today, then tomorrow they won't exist.'
The shadow transport secretary undertook to continue to raise the profile of the industry and to press the government to go further in creating high-value work, which the current and future workforce can benefit from.
He also undertook to arrange a further discussion between Nautilus, Maritime UK and the wider shadow transport team to discuss issues including the Union's Build Back Fairer campaign.