A shipping union has complained that some of the crew on a ferry running between Stornoway and Ullapool are being exploited, with pay rates well below the minimum wage.
The ‘Clipper Ranger’ is chartered by Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries to offer a dedicated freight service on the route and is owned by a company called Seatruck, which is registered in the Isle of Man.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union have claimed that Estonians working on the vessel are being paid just £4.19 per hour and, despite pleas, the company have refused to bring their wages in line with those of other CalMac employees.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “This scandal goes right to the very heart of the RMT’s ‘Ships of Shame’ campaign — low-cost crewing of an Isle of Man vessel that works between UK ports and is crewed by Estonians employed on poverty pay below the National Minimum Wage.
“That is the kind of murky and shadowy operation that is the norm in the British shipping industry in 2014, even on lifeline ferry services to Scottish island communities. The fact that it is happening on a route under the control of the Scottish Government raises serious questions about just how seriously they take the issue of exploitation in their back yard.”
He said that the RMT had written to the Scottish Government to highlight the issue as the relevant authorities “appear to have fallen asleep at the wheel on this one”.
“It is no accident,” he said, “that they are making this anti-union stand prior to the tendering process for the 2016-22 Clyde and Hebrides ferry services contract which starts in the autumn.”
A CalMac spokesman said they have assured the RMT and the Nautilus union that they had raised the issue with Seatruck and stressed that the solution lay with them.
“Pay levels for the crew employed by Seatruck is entirely a matter for them,” he said. “However we have been in discussion with them for some time to find a way of ensuring that all crew, regardless of nationality, are paid the same as our other seafarers when working on the MV ‘Clipper Ranger’ while she is under charter to CalMac.
“These talks have taken longer than hoped and we are disappointed that we have been unable to find a mutually acceptable solution. Our commitment to universal pay levels for all seafarers working for or on behalf of CalMac remains as strong as ever and we will continue to work with Seatruck to seek a resolution.”
The Scottish Government, who are reponsible for CalMac ferries, said the problem lay in a legal loophole at UK level.
“Employment law is a reserved matter for the UK Government, but we will continue to press for a means to improve this situation,” he said. “The charter agreement is directly between the operators and Seatruck — Scottish ministers would not be given sight of any details of the wages of individual seafarers.
“However, as soon as the Scottish Government was alerted to this issue, Transport Minister Keith Brown wrote to Stephen Hammond MP, the Minister with responsibility for the maritime sector, asking him to close any legal loopholes that allow this situation to arise.”
The spokesman added: “We have also made it clear, to both Caledonian MacBrayne and Serco NorthLink Ferries, that we expect them to offer to pay for increases to be made to the wage levels of these crew members, backdated to the start of the charter agreements these companies have with Seatruck. However, we understand that Seatruck has still to agree to this offer.”
Editorial, page 15