July 24, 2023

New Seafarers’ Charter welcome, but misses opportunity to mandate safe work patterns

The Seafarers’ Charity, the largest independent grant funder of maritime welfare services, has welcomed Government’s announcement of a new Seafarers’ Charter but wants more to be done to address work patterns that cause fatigue and reduce safety at sea.

Announced today by the Maritime Minister Baroness Vere, the new Seafarers’ Charter is in response to the mass redundancies by P & O Ferries in 2022. It sets out Government’s plans to enhance employment protections for seafarers by ensuring they are paid and treated fairly. Crucially it has been backed by some of the main cross Channel ferry operators such as DFDS Ferries, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena.

This new voluntary Charter will enshrine fair pay and access to social protections that many land-based workers take for granted. It is anticipated that many maritime companies will sign up to the Charter, however, as a voluntary Charter, there is no compulsion or restriction on those companies who have less regard for the welfare of their workforce.

The importance of roster patterns on fatigue and safety is recognised in the new Seafarers’ Charter which requires roster patterns to be adopted which provide adequate rest periods between shifts. However, The Seafarers’ Charity, a long-term advocate of seafarers’ welfare and safety at sea, believes that the voluntary Charter is a missed opportunity to fully commit to tackling problematic roster patterns and tours of duty on cross channel ferries and elsewhere.

Deborah Layde, Chief Executive of The Seafarers’ Charity said:

“The new Seafarers’ Charter is broadly welcomed by The Seafarers’ Charity. I am pleased to see the inclusion of roster patterns within the Seafarers’ Charter, which is in itself, an important recognition of how inadequate rest causes fatigue and can contribute to accidents at sea. However, without a legal mandate to establish safe roster patterns, unsafe practices will continue to be the norm for the less scrupulous. This means seafarer fatigue will continue to be a risk factor contributing to decreased safety at sea for both crew and for passengers.”

For all seafarers on seagoing ships, the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 requires rest breaks to be a minimum of 10 hours' rest in any 24 hour period, 77 hours rest in any 7 day period and at least 4 weeks' paid annual leave.