Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:11 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 5:11 pm, 20th July 2022

My Lords, I think that when they heard of the P&O Ferries case, the British public’s first thought was one of contempt towards an employer who would deal with employees, our fellow citizens and our country in such a contemptuous way.

I start by paying tribute to a most important group within our country: the railway signallers of the west coast of Scotland. They are clearly capable of bringing up and nurturing the most talented of children who end up as the most distinguished Members of this House. Another such railway signaller from the west of Scotland is relevant to this particular Bill. When the national minimum wage came in, a former railway signaller, Mr Jimmy Knapp, was the leader of the seafarers’ union, it having merged into the railway workers’ union and his predecessor from the National Union of Seamen, Sam McCluskie, sadly having had a rather early and unfortunate death.

I recall the discussions. Mr Knapp was the most robust of west-coast Scots; he was clear, lucid and determined. There was never any indication or feeling that the agreements in place with the employers covering the ferries—which he specifically raised—would end up finding a way of outwitting that legislation. That was not the intent of Parliament at the time. If it had been the intent, Mr Knapp would have been very forthright in advising on how Parliament could have improved that legislation.

Times have changed, however, and globalisation has taken hold. Although the specifics of this Bill relate to maritime law, not to EU law, we have had the backdrop of the Laval and Viking cases in 2007 in the European Court of Justice, which significantly opened up the options and possibilities of shifting workers from one part of the world to another part of the world, and into this country.

There is no question whatever, from my experience, that that shift was a key motivating factor in the 2016 referendum for many working-class people. They saw that this imposition of rules and cheaper wages from abroad was not in the British national interest. So, I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this proposal—it is in the British national interest. I hope they will go further and look now at the Laval and Viking cases, because there will be future such episodes and it is fundamentally wrong that British workers’ pay and conditions should be undermined by people bringing in a cheaper workforce from abroad. That is not what anyone voted for in that referendum and it is not what people would vote for as an offer at any future general election—I put that to all parties in the House.

Secondly, what cognisance has been taken of the Fleet Maritime Services (Bermuda) judgment of 2015 on peripatetic seafarers and pensions? That judgment, which was a positive judgment in terms of pension rights, seems to totally complement what the Government are doing here. If the Government were to veer away from it, it may actually create some kind of precedent that could be used to challenge any demurral from seeing through this change, which, again, I commend the Government for bringing forward.