Concept for - New Seafarers’ Charter: What does this mean for seafarer rights?

In March 2022, P&O Ferries’ implemented mass redundancies of approximately 800 seafarers without consultation or warning. Now that over a year has passed, has anything changed for seafarers and the protections available to them?

On 24 July 2023, the UK government published The Seafarers’ Charter. This was introduced as part of their commitment to the nine-point plan which aims to protect seafarers, and which was introduced in direct response to P&O Ferries’ actions.

What is the new Seafarers’ Charter?

It is a voluntary agreement of standards between the UK government and maritime operators, with the goal of improving seafarer welfare and supporting employment protections for seafarers.
It doesn’t actually alter the legal obligations of employers or the minimum entitlements for Seafarers under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), but it sets up a mechanism to encourage compliance.

What does it mean for operators?

The Charter is aimed at, but not limited to, vessels involved in carriage of persons or goods by ship, running between the UK and a place outside the UK.

The Charter requires operators to comply with minimum standards including:

• Payment of at least the National Minimum Wage equivalent to eligible seafarers (as per the conditions set out in the Seafarers’ Wages Act and subsequent secondary legislation)
• Payment of overtime at a rate of at least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate, by reference to the contract of the seafarer
• Providing adequate training, development and familiarisation
• Providing seafarers with a full, indefinite contract rather than voyage contracts (which can be allowed in exceptional circumstances).
• Ensuring at least the standard required by the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 are in place, for seafarers to receive e.g. maternity benefit, employment injury benefit, medical care etc.
• Adoption of roster patterns which take into consideration mental health, safety, welfare, intensity, fatigue etc.
• Ensuring all seafarers have adequate rest periods to ensure health and safety

What is the impact of this Seafarers’ Charter?

If operators can evidence their compliance with the Charter to the Department of Transport, applicants can be awarded Verified Seafarer’s Charter status.
If 100% compliance cannot be immediately demonstrated, then applicants need to show measurable checkpoints at intervals to show how the standards can be met within a 12 month timeframe. They would then be marked ‘progressing towards verified status’.

For those already in compliance and immediately verified with this status, then the standards are reviewed on an annual basis. This shows that engagement with the Charter by maritime operators needs to be continuous and there is a systematic requirement to uphold and evidence the actions taken, to be awarded Verified Seafarer’s Charter status.

The Department of Transport will be responsible for maintaining the public register of operators holding verified status and operators will also have the option to publicise their status as they wish. So, the verification status of maritime operators could be a useful signal for seafarers in identifying which current and/or prospective operators are adhering to positive standards and working conditions.

Looking ahead

The Charter does demonstrate the UK government’s commitment to their nine-point plan. As the Charter is a voluntary agreement which is very much dependent on maritime operators’ engagement, its full impact remains to be seen. It does however indicate a positive step forward in the protection and promotion of employment rights for seafarers.

This article was written jointly by Verity Slater, partner in our Employment team and Karolina Smolicz, trainee solicitor in our Employment team. If you wish to discuss anything raised in this article, please contact our Employment team.