Emma Lewell-Buck MP: Our Merchant seaman are being let down by the Government

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is the lifeline for our Royal Navy, crewed by highly skilled Merchant Seaman they refuel, rearm and resupply Royal Navy ships around the world, serving in major conflicts and delivering aid in humanitarian crises.

South Shields Marine School.
South Shields Marine School.

They play an integral role in keeping us and others around the world safe and defending our nations security. However, the hard work of the RFA has been consistently undermined by this Government, who have refused to pay the nearly 2,000 merchant seafarers employed by the RFA a fair wage.

RFA pay has been victim to the Government’s successive pay freezes and cuts which has seen the value of their pay undermined by over 20% since 2009-2010. Most recently, despite those working for the Royal Navy receiving a 2.9% increase in pay for 2018-19, RFA merchant seafarers only received a below inflation 1.5% increase.

The Government’s argument against this is that RFA workers are Ministry of Defence civil servants and as such their pay is subject to the HM treasury civil servant pay guidance. In other words when it suits the Government they will classify them as civil servants, yet the RFA carry out more than 60% of tasks attributed to the Royal Navy and increasing their pay in line with Royal Navy colleagues would only cost the Government about £400,000. A very small price to pay for our safety and security.

I have pledged my full support to the Fair Pay for the RFA campaign led by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) asking that the Government take immediate steps to improve industrial relations in the RFA by agreeing to a meaningful increase in pay for RFA's civilian seafarers.

The RMT have made it clear to the Government they are wanting to engage in meaningful and genuine talks, but thanks to the intransigence of this Government they have been left with no option but to engage in industrial action.

It is perhaps no surprise that morale is low and recruitment and retention has been affected as a result. An RFA specific staff survey held in 2017 found satisfaction levels amongst RFA’s civilian seafarers of only 42%.

RFA members have told me that various Secretaries of State and Ministers are shirking their responsibilities and claiming it is not them who are responsible for this derisory pay offer, as has been my experience too, after writing to the Treasury, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence, HM Treasury have predictably responded shifting responsibility to the MOD.

Here in South Shields as well as having a proud history of Merchant Seaman our South Shields Marine School, established in 1861 continues to train Merchant Seaman. Their future and that of the current RFA workforce should not be undermined by a Government that doesn’t value those who put their lives on the line for us time and time again. By undermining them, the Government are undermining our safety and security.