UK Government recognises seafarers as ‘key workers’

Houses of Parliament. Credit: Paul Gunton

In the UK Government’s latest COVID-19 guidance it appears that UK seafarers have finally been designated as ‘key workers’.

The UK is the first country to heed the call made by several maritime organisations, including the International Chamber of shipping (ICS), UK Chamber of shipping, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), and Nautilus International, for crew members to be placed on the list of ‘key workers’ and awarded special status as such.

The guidance states specifically that people that are considered key workers “includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass”.

“Shipping is the lifeblood of our nation and is going to play a major part in keeping Britain trading during these very difficult moments. Shipping moves 95% of our trade and seafarers are critical to keeping freight moving. We called on the government to give seafarers special treatment so that they can continue to do their essential work and we are delighted that they have been recognised as key workers,” said Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, to SAS.

Nautilus International also welcomed the move stating on its website that, “The UK government’s decision could be used as ammunition in the fight to get seafarers recognised as key workers internationally and exempt them from pandemic-related travel restrictions that are hindering them from carrying out their essential work.”

David Hammond, CEO of Human Rights at Sea, pointed out to SAS that the current government guidance focuses on maintaining educational provision for parent’s who work “is critical to the COVID-19 response”.

“It would therefore be fair and reasonable on the reading of the guidance to assume that those persons engaged in the UK transport function, ‘whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response’, are designated ‘key workers’ under the present unprecedented COVID-19 circumstances,” commented Hammond to SAS. Though he stressed that in the case of any doubt, this should be confirmed by the UK government.

The UK Department of Transport and Shipping Minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP, have been contacted for confirmation.

The UK decision comes as the International Ship Suppliers & Services Association (ISSA) has called on the heads of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and World Customs Organisation for ship suppliers around the world to be given essential worker status. This would enable all ship suppliers to undertake important supply tasks unhindered.

“While ISSA members are mindful of the need to follow World Health Organisation and individual national health guidelines when delivering supplies to ships (this can include leaving the supplies on the quayside for the ship to load onboard itself), they are finding it difficult to secure the correctly signed documentation etc from the ship’s bridge because of the distancing rules. These are issues that can be sorted out at a local level but, port state control authorities must ensure that all steps are taken to enable the world’s ships to continue to be supplied,” said Saeed al Malik, president of ISSA, addressing the IMO.

“ISSA would like to ask the IMO to request all Member States to classify ship supply and ship suppliers as essential services and essential workers so they can undertake their important tasks at the world’s ports. If this request could be sent by the IMO to IMO Member States as soon as possible, I am sure this will go some way to rectifying the situation,” concluded Malik.

The full guidance can be found here.