The Malaviya Twenty supply ship, stuck in Great Yarmouth. Photograph: Guardian
by Polly Toynbee (
TheGuardian ) M/V Malaviya Twenty has been moored in Great Yarmouth docks since December. To look at, it’s no rustbucket, kept in good shape by its Indian crew – but when I visited a week ago, they hadn’t been paid by the ship’s owners for all those months. This is a story about the fate of shipping in Britain – an often forgotten industry, though we depend on it for over 90% of our imports and exports, and for most of what is stacked on supermarket shelves.
Related Book: Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster by John Konrad Waiting for their wages, the 12 crew members spent their time growing vegetables – onions, garlic, cabbages and tomatoes – in pots on the deck. The company hoped they would give up, but they are holding out for their pay. “They’re trying to wear us down,” says one officer: they want no names printed for fear of blacklisting. He can’t go home without his pay as he has taken out loans to keep his family.
Why was this ship contracted here in the first place? That reveals much about British shipping and the fate of seafarers . This is an Indian supply ship sailing between the British coast and UK offshore oil rigs and wind farms. Despite this, their foreign owners need not pay the UK minimum wage: rates are often a third less than for British sailors.
The trade union
Nautilus International,which often helps stranded crews, has stepped in, calling in the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). This means the ship is officially prevented from leaving port until the men are paid. Its sister ship Malaviya Seven has been similarly holed up in Aberdeen . This crew were owed a total of $380,000 (£290,000) in June: some has been paid following MCA intervention, but Paul Keenan of Nautilus says $200,000 is still owing. The ship, worth millions, could be sold off to pay its debts.
Two days ago Malaviya Twenty’s owners paid off some of the crew, who are flying home – though the ship will be detained until all wages are fully paid. And as the Nautilus union protests: “The exploitation of these crews directly undermines our own shipping industry with unfair competition.”
British politics focuses too little on the reality of working lives. Many who voted Brexit overestimated the impact of migration on their own low pay, or the lack of housing and public services. But here’s a case of crude, obvious labour-market abuse by employers substituting cheaper foreign staff.
If one company does it and undercuts the rest, then all must follow suit in bidding for contracts. Only government intervention can prevent a race to the bottom that is eroding established working rights in so many sectors.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd