The Council of Nautilus International at its meeting in April emphasised the Union’s political neutrality but agreed that the best interests of the maritime profession and the shipping industry would be secured by the UK remaining in the EU.
The Union, which represents maritime professionals in the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland, confirmed that ‘on balance, UK maritime workers are better in Europe than out’.
General secretary Mark Dickinson acknowledged that part of the problem was that it remained unclear what leaving will look like and those campaigning for ‘out’ have not explained what will happen to the UK economy and the jobs of British workers.
Mr Dickinson led a discussion on the potential impact of ‘Brexit’ on British shipping and seafarers at the Union’s Council meeting in April in order to ascertain what was best for Britain in term of the British seafarers working in the global shipping industry.
Mr Dickinson pointed out that leaving the EU would mean the UK is no longer subject to EU directives — including those outlawing discrimination on race or nationality — which could enable ship owners to employ labour from lower-cost EU countries, thereby endangering British jobs.
‘On the other hand, the UK does apply the national minimum wage and work permit requirements in a limited and haphazard fashion to shipping, and as a Union we have on occasion been able to ensure that foreign seafarers are paid at least the correct UK minimum wages or have the required work permits,’ he noted. ‘This general lack of enforcement is a national issue related to a lack of resources or political will, and not as a result of EU law.’
Mr Dickinson also said that historically no British government has ever restricted employment in UK shipping to UK nationals and therefore there would be no reason to assume this would happen if Britain withdraws from the EU.
‘However, EU state aid guidelines for maritime transport have led to UK support for the shipping industry through tonnage tax, the SMarT training scheme, and income tax (SED) and social security concessions,’ he added.
‘It is a risk, at least, that the current government — with its current austerity-driven restrictions on public spending and the stated preference of ministers for the free market over intervention — would not exploit an opportunity to cut government fiscal support being underpinned by EU guidelines that would no longer apply.’
Mr Dickinson concluded that whilst there are many benefits to UK shipping from being in Europe, none of the current challenges facing the industry will disappear as a result of being outside.
‘We will still have to deal with global competition, but instead of fighting the negative aspects of globalisation as part of the largest economic bloc in the world, we will have to fight it alone,’ he said.
‘The impact of the UK being outside of the EU could be significant and the risks of taking such a leap into the unknown are great.’