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European shipowners strongly oppose Norwegian bill on seafarers' work conditions

The Norwegian government wants to implement a law allowing foreign seafarers the same salary and work conditions as Norwegian seafarers when sailing in the country’s waters. ”We are deeply concerned” and ”offended” are among the responses from northern European shipowners.

Harald Solberg CEO Norwegian Shipowners' Association, Anne W. Trolle Chief Executive Danish Shipping, Anders Hermansson CEO Swedish Shipowners' Association and Annet Koster CEO Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners. | Photo: Norwegian Shipowners' Association, Danish Shipping, Swedish Shipowners' Association and Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners

A bill proposed by Norway’s government seeking to implement Norwegian work conditions for international seafarers sailing in the country’s waters has put shipowners’ associations in a range of northern European countries on high alert.

Organizations in Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark have reacted in an unusually sharp manner in their hearing responses to the Norwegian labor government’s proposal, saying the bill is against international maritime regulations.

The new bill is meant to ensure that international seafarers get the same wage and work conditions as Norwegian ones when working in Norwegian waters or within the country’s economic area. But the proposal not only has the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association up in arms – their northern European colleagues in Danish Shipping, the Finnish Shipowners’ Association, the Swedish Shipowners’ Association, and the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners also oppose the proposal.

“The proposal involves that ships in Norwegian domestic shipping and ships that provide maritime services on the Norwegian continental shelf and in Norwegian economic zone is subject to a requirement for Norwegian wage and working conditions,” reads the proposal document from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.

According to the ministry, the aim is primarily to promote a fair and decent work life in Norwegian waters. The ministry says that Norwegian wage levels and conditions will protect the workers, hinder social dumping, and counteract low-wage competition.

“This will contribute to a fair competitive situation in Norwegian domestic shipping and shipping on the Norwegian continental shelf and will be an important prerequisite for successful recruitment and employment in the maritime sector.”

In theory, it sounds like a good plan, but according to Harald Solberg, CEO of Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, there are several problems with the proposed law.

”Should the proposal be adopted as it was submitted for consultation, it will mark a complete shift in Norwegian shipping policy. Today, foreign seafarers have pay and working conditions stipulated in collective agreements drawn up in collaboration with Norwegian and foreign trade unions. The law proposal gives no justification as to why this would not be decent,” Solberg says to ShippingWatch, adding:

”We also believe that the proposal is clearly in breach of the EEA Agreement and other obligations under international law. In addition, the proposal will not lead to more Norwegian seafarers and will be impossible to control and enforce in an efficient and fair way.”

Deeply concerned

The Norwegian shipowners receive support from several corners of the shipping world. The Royal Association of Netherlands’ Shipowners is especially concerned about the proposed law.

“As an organization representing shipowners operating in areas covered by the law bill, we are deeply concerned about the proposal,” their response letter, penned by Managing Director Annet Koster, reads, adding:

“We would like to underline that all seafarers on board the ships operated by our members, are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s) based on international level and principles and agreed with both the Dutch national seafarers’ union Nautilus and the seafarer’s union in the country of residence of the seafarer. We do not accept any allegations that the wage and working conditions are considered unfair or indecent.”

Social dumping

Anne W. Trolle, chief executive at Danish Shipping, writes in a response to the bill that Danish Shipping finds it offensive that the current salary and agreements made in the communal tariff agreements are being classified as social dumping.

“On the whole, we find it offensive that the content of the collective agreements that have been concluded between Danish Shipping and the Danish and other professional organizations is characterized as being an expression of social dumping. In addition, we find it highly worrying that the law in effect disallows such agreements in favor of NOR agreements and entered into with outside parties,” Trolle states.

Trolle is supported by the Swedish Shipowners’ Association.

In a letter signed by Anders Hermansson, the organization writes that when compared with international shipping companies, the Nordic countries are often viewed as role models and countries with higher wage levels than other countries. He highlights that the levels of course vary within the Nordics, but that it is noteworthy that Swedish wages are thought to contribute to social dumping.

“We oppose such a description. The assessment that this constitutes social dumping is also particularly noteworthy as Norway simultaneously allows significantly lower wage levels on board ships registered in its own NIS register,” Hermansson writes.

Danish Shipping, the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and the Royal Association of Netherlands’ Shipowners all point out that the proposed law would violate EU legislation.

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