The UK Home Office has confirmed the continued use of time-limited immigration waivers for work permit requirements in the wind sector to facilitate the employment of foreign crews by windfarm companies and windfarm vessel operators around the UK coast. However, this raises concerns about poor safety and human rights conditions for migrant workers, as well as concerns about local jobs and training in the sector.
Nautilus has been one of the main voices raising such concerns over the effects of these waivers for offshore wind construction companies, windfarm companies, and vessel operators. Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said, “Nautilus finds it deeply disturbing that the government has once again extended the concession to immigration rules for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals who are joining vessels involved in the offshore wind industry to 21 April next year.”
He drew attention to the damaging impact this ‘hands-off’ process of regulating creates, citing circumstances wherein non-European workers are paid far less than the UK minimum wage while being made to work more than 12 hours a day at sea. Nautilus questioned the need for these exemptions at all, given that they saw no credible evidence of a shortage of UK maritime professionals for these jobs.
The union noted the damaging impact this would have on employment and training opportunities for British seafarers as well as the long–term sustainability of the emerging industry. The use of foreign labour, therefore, would not only undermine policy objectives being proposed by the government for its Maritime 2050 strategy, but also make it harder for decent pay and work conditions to be implemented across the board through the government’s laissez-faire approach to the sector.
Speaking with Safety at Sea, Pippa Ganderton, the director of global account management at ATPI Marine & Energy echoed many of Dickinson’s concerns, said, “At a time when the UK is poised to exit the EU, a strong maritime sector, fuelled by a skilled UK workforce should be a core focus of government for all sectors. The healthy returns the energy sector enjoys should generate enough to pay for both UK and EU workers. The UK, with its proud maritime history, should uphold the principles of fair labour.”
She added that the issues of fair pay, proper working conditions, training, and sustainability would reflect in the larger industry, affecting not only fishing fleets and the emerging energy or wind farm sector, but also bunkering, supply, and other shipping fleets.