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Fair Pay: campaigning to end low pay, exploitation, and abandonment

1 December 2021

Nautilus is campaigning for fair pay for all seafarers. As a global trade union, equal pay is fundamental to the Union's activism and key to a better future. Not only is campaigning to increase pay for all workers the right thing to do, but Nautilus recognises that doing this for the most vulnerable seafarers will have a positive effect for members across the maritime industry

Top wins:

1. Agreement reached on Seafarers' Minimum Wage
2. Successful industrial negotiations for pay increases

Still fighting for:

1. An end to wind farm visa waivers

Fair pay at sea

Seafarers are entitled to a minimum wage that applies globally and is usually negotiated every two years between trade unions and employers. The negotiations are convened by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Nautilus campaigned for an increase of the ILO annual minimum wage by $42 from 1 January 2022, up from the current rate of $641 to $683. This amount is equivalent to a daily increase of $1.40, less than a cup of coffee in most major cities.

In 2021, seafarer unions jointly shut down pay discussions after this proposal was rejected by shipowners represented by the International Chamber of Shipping, which demanded we scrap the established practice of using objective ILO minimum wage calculations before it would approve a rise.

This rejection was a 'slap in the face' considering the all-time high international shipping rates and strong financial performance of shipowners during the pandemic thanks to the work of seafarers.

Nautilus Federation affiliates issued a joint statement supporting the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in unilaterally imposing a new minimum monthly basic wage rate. After many more months of campaigning,a solution was reached in September 2021.

IBF negotiations

A different set of regular pay negotiations takes place at the International Bargaining Forum (IBF), which brings together the ITF and international maritime employers that make up the Joint Negotiating Group.

Seafarers working on flag of convenience vessels covered by ITF-IBF collective bargaining agreements will see a wage increase from 1 January 2022 following an agreement on 3 September 2021.

Industrial update

This year Nautilus International's industrial team successfully concluded pay negotiations on behalf of many members, but continued to face challenges in doing so.

'It's been as hard this year as it was in 2020, because of the pandemic and the slow recovery,' Nautilus head of industrial Micky Smyth says. 'A lot of members took pay cuts to save their jobs and it's been hard to get that pay back. A lot of companies are obviously suffering severe financial difficulties, while others may have used the pandemic as an excuse to attack salaries – though that is impossible to prove.'

The offshore oil and gas, ferry and cruise sectors have been hit particularly hard.

A difficult aspect to pay negotiations is the current rate of inflation in the UK – consumer prices rose by 4.2% in the UK this October, the highest rate in a decade. Mr Smyth foresees a tough period for seafarers until these inflationary pressures ease.

'It's a struggle for the operators, but more so for our members. The industrial team goes out and fights for them as best they can, telling the operators that their employees – both at sea and ashore – are struggling. We keep representing our members like we've always done.'

Fair pay for windfarm workers

Nautilus is renewing calls for an end to the UK's controversial visa waivers for offshore windfarm workers, which has allowed the importation of cheap labour. The visa waivers have been rubber stamped six times since 2016.

Now it seems the UK government is trying to codify cheap labour into this booming industry through the highly contentious Nationalities and Borders Bill, currently going through Parliament.

Meanwhile, the government is throwing taxpayer's money at the sector in an attempt to hit CO2 reduction targets.

Nautilus wants taxpayers' money to be invested back into good quality, well-paid jobs for maritime professionals. We will continue to campaign on this issue in 2022 as the offshore wind sector expands.

The industrial team goes out and fights for our members as best they can, telling the operators that their employees are struggling. We represent our members like we've always done Micky Smyth
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Know your rights: check your pay

All seafarers are entitled to receive the UK minimum wage if they work on a UK ship, perform some work in the UK and ordinarily reside in the UK.

From 1 April 2021, the National Minimum Wage rates have increased. The applies even if an employment agreement says otherwise.

If you believe you have been underpaid, you can complain and seek redress via HMRC which enforces the national minimum wage.

Union members should seek advice from their union, by initially contacting their industrial organiser first.

Image: Getty Images

Union claws back € 1m for Van Oord seafarers

Nautilus International has a long history in protecting members' pay and conditions, and securing good quality employment is central to our industrial objectives.

Nautilus/FNV lawyer Mieke den Hollander

The global transboundary nature of the Union's organising work is also reflected in the way it negotiates across the branches.

A 2021 success in the Supreme Court of the Netherlands will benefit over 300 employees at dredging company Royal Van Oord, resulting in compensation of over one million Euro.

Van Oord had, for a number of years, forced crew to work in their leave periods during busy times and then to use up accrued leave when work was slow. Van Oord will now have to pay back the cost for the last five years of accrued holiday for crew.

After winning in the Rotterdam Court and the High Court in the Hague, the branch also won the case in the Supreme Court, which means the verdict is now beyond challenge.

Van Oord is obliged to comply with the collective bargaining agreement in the manner interpreted by FNV Waterbouw.

This now prevents Van Oord from requiring its employees, following a period of annual leave, to use further annual leave days in periods where the company does not have work available for them. The costs of not having work available after leave periods will, therefore, now fall on Van Oord, instead of its employees.


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