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Union Welcomes Employment Support For UK Seafarers

by Robert Lee,, London

17 November 2009

Nautilus International, the UK trade union that represents 25,000 maritime professionals, has welcomed a government decision to remove ship and hovercraft officers from the "shortage occupation" list, in a move that bolsters employment prospects for UK workers.

The decision – announced on November 12 by Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas – will mean stricter controls over the use of foreign seafarers in UK waters and help safeguard employment for British seafarers at a time of redundancies and restructuring, the Union says.

“We welcome this ruling and the protection it affords our members, particularly in these difficult times,” commented Nautilus General Secretary, Mark Dickinson.

Under the current system, "shortage occupations" are exempt from the standard Resident Labour Market Test, which is applied whenever a UK employer wishes to bring a worker from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) into the UK under the points-based system. The decision therefore to remove the occupations of ship and hovercraft officers from the list will provide additional job opportunities for UK seafarers.

Nautilus has rebutted claims by the Chamber of Shipping that the "shortage" classification – which would require owners to advertise vacancies before recruiting from outside the EEA – will damage the national employment and training market.

The owners contend that the national and international shortage of officers means that "without the ability to quickly recruit, ships could be prevented from sailing and some lifeline services to offshore islands could be jeopardized." Nautilus, however, has argued that there are officers immediately available to serve in such trades – particularly in the wake of recent redundancies.

Whilst welcoming the government’s decision, the union has urged there is further attention needed in the area. Noting occasions where ships have operated between two UK ports without UK nationals, it has said that further regulation is needed to prop up employment of UK seafarers. Nautilus points out that these controls are already in place in other industries within the UK, and at a time of officer redundancies and major restructuring in the ferry sector, it considers it essential that members are given the opportunity to serve on ships close to home.

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