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General secretary raises plight of stranded seafarers at select committee hearing

11 September 2020

Giving evidence to the house of commons transport select committee, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson spoke of the 'horrendous situation' facing seafarers as a result of the ongoing crew change crisis.

Responding to a question from SNP MP Gavin Newlands, Mr Dickinson told committee members that: 'The issues are escalating of suicides, of fights and brawls on board and of mental health deteriorating. Social media and news media channels are awash with horrendous stories about what is happening right now.'

The exchange took place in an oral evidence session as part of the committee's ongoing inquiry into the implications for transport of the coronavirus pandemic. During the session, the committee also heard from RMT national secretary Darren Procter and several witnesses from the Department for Transport, including new maritime minister Robert Courts MP.

The committee touched upon several other topics during the session, including the UK's government's approach to the pandemic with respect to maritime. Committee chair Huw Merriman MP asked how successful the government has been in supporting the maritime sector through the pandemic.

Responding, Mr Dickinson paid tribute to the work of outgoing minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP for her engagement with the sector and 'for making clear very early on that seafarers were key workers.' He credited the government for taking an international lead on resolving the crisis and said: 'I think you have to put some credit on the UK initiative leading to the issue now being on the agenda of the United Nations. The Secretary General and his team have seized this issue and are pushing this issue through to conferences that are taking place later this month.'

However, he was more critical of the approach towards income and job protection, with the unique employment status of seafarers disqualifying them from support under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). He referenced a Nautilus survey of members, which revealed that up to 11,000 seafarers were at risk of missing out on the financial support.

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Shore up decent jobs in restart and recovery

The government must commit to ensuring a strong and prosperous British maritime sector with decent jobs for skilled maritime key workers post-Brexit.

Nautilus has urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to review the objectives in its Maritime 2050 strategy to ensure the maritime industry is robust, secure for the future and better able to deal with a global crisis of the type we are now facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Union outlined three 'key asks' of government:

1. Review employment status of seafarers, including the practice of ‘offshore employment’ contracts that left many unable to access financial support during the crisis
2. Review state aid provided to the industry and what that delivers to the nation in support of its strategic and maritime security needs and ambitions as a maritime nation
3. Review its policy of supporting the Red Ensign Group and develop a coherent flag registration policy which is consistent with its obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and which supports its stated aim of growing the UK Ship Registry.

Ministers must ensure the needs of seafarers and growth of the UK shipping industry are at the forefront of discussions as the UK heads towards the December 2020 transition deadline.

A briefing document was sent to MPs and to attendees of the Transport Select Committee, which general secretary Mark Dickinson attended on 9 September 2020.