UK and France Take Action to Protect the Rights and Welfare of Seafarers

The UK government has launched a Seafarers’ Charter to help guarantee fair wages, hours of rest and training for thousands of seafarers in the maritime industry.

The Seafarers’ Charter is a voluntary agreement of standards for seafarers between the UK government and maritime operators. It aims to protect and improve seafarer welfare and employment and it sets out standards for operators relating to payment, professional development, contracts of employment, social welfare, tours of duty and rest, training, drugs and alcohol.

It has been introduced as part of the Seafarer Protections Nine Point Plan. The provisions of the Seafarers’ Charter apply to all those working aboard vessels, at all grades, ranks and roles.

The charter requires employers to pay seafarers for overtime at a rate of at least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate set out in a seafarer’s employment agreement, to pay at least the National Minimum Wage equivalent to eligible seafarers, to ensure that all seafarers including cadets and trainee ratings are provided with adequate training and development, to allow seafarers to receive social security benefits.

It also requires employers to adopt roster patterns that take into account route intensity, fatigue, mental health, safety, welfare, and operational manning, to provide adequate rest periods between shifts, and to carry out drug and alcohol testing at regular and random intervals of no longer than 12 months.

Brittany Ferries’ chief executive Christophe Mathieu, and president Jean-Marc Roué were in Paris yesterday to sign ground-breaking voluntary charters which will protect the rights of hard-working seafarers on the English Channel. The event was hosted by French shipping minister Hervé Berville, who was joined by his UK counterpart, the maritime minister Baroness Vere.

The charters are a complement to laws mandating minimum wages for sailors on ferries operating cross-Channel routes. In the UK, the Seafarers Wages Act was made law in March 2023. In France the loi Le Gac sur le dumping social (named after the Breton member of parliament who drafted it) passed the final stage of the legislative process last week.

The Seafarers’ Charter has already received the support from DFDS, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena. “When it comes to seafarers’ wages and working conditions, we believe that all ferry companies should aim for the highest bar and not participate in a race to the bottom,” said Christophe Mathieu, Brittany Ferries CEO.

“I’m glad to say we were not alone. Condor Ferries, Stena Line and DFDS joined us in Paris. These companies may be competitors, but they are competitors who are committed to doing the right thing, to supporting their seafarers and ensuring they are paid properly and their working conditions are good,” said Christophe Mathieu, CEO Brittany Ferries.

Christophe Mathieu added that two voluntary charters have been drafted by the French and British to separate “the good guys from the bad” as he said. “While they are not laws, they are a complement to regulation on both sides of the Channel which primarily mandate minimum levels of pay. The Seafarers Wages Act in the UK is now law. Last week an equivalent regulation was passed in France.”