TUC Congress delegates gave unanimous support to a Nautilus motion calling for an end to a situation in which European seafarers are being forced to compete for work against crews from low-cost labour supply countries.
Moving the motion, strategic organiser Danny McGowan said ferry operators committed to the employment and training of British seafarers are being undermined by rivals who run ships with foreign crew who are paid well under British and Irish national minimum wage rates.
Urging unions to back the European Transport Workers' Federation fair transport campaign, he told the conference that shoddy practices are not confined to shipping. 'Right across Europe, from lorries and trains to planes and inland waterways, transport workers are being pushed to work harder, longer, faster and for less money, while being played off against one another through unfair competition,' he added.
'Mobile employees seem to be a moving target for dodgy employers, who increasingly make the most of legal loopholes on things like the home base of workers to avoid national laws and jurisdictions, and evade the core principles of corporate social responsibility.'
Mr McGowan said the fair transport campaign sets out concrete solutions for a harmonised European Transport Market. 'For shipping, that should mean a common European maritime space where European standards and working conditions prevail, not those of southeast Asia,' he stressed. 'Transport workers should be paid and treated in line with where they are working, not where they come from.
'The race to the bottom in transport is bad news for everyone, and threatens the safety of key services,' he continued. 'Poorly paid, poorly treated, fatigued and stressed workers are a liability, and pose a threat not only to the quality of transport services but the safety of passengers and of the environment.'
Seconding the motion, Kieran Crowe from the TSSA union said deregulation and the absence of effective regulations enable transport firms to pit worker against worker. 'The race to the bottom will harm workers throughout the continent,' he added. 'This initiative is an opportunity to put a stop to that.'
Kevin Terry, from the Unite union, said standards are being undermined in the drive to cut costs in transport. Flag of convenience vessels are even being brought into service in European harbour and towage services, he warned.