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As the P&O Ferries situation threatens to undermine pay and conditions throughout the UK ferry sector, Andrew Draper looks at the situation in Norway, where operators and the government are looking to prevent internationally flagged vessels from undermining the terms and conditions of Norwegian seafarers
Norwegian ferry company Hurtigruten has called for international vessels in Norwegian waters to pay Norwegian salary levels, plus Norwegian terms and conditions.
Hurtigruten operates vessels along the Norwegian coast and has two expedition ships operating internationally. The company said if the government proposes, as expected, that Norwegian wages and terms should apply in Norwegian waters, then these international flagged vessels will also be brought into line with Norwegian norms. That included vessels calling at more than one Norwegian port, for example cruise ships visiting the fjords.
Norwegian salaries are among the highest in the world. While officers earn in line with elsewhere in northern Europe, an AB will earn around NOK 45,000 (£3,943.33) per month with a 21 day on/21 day off rotation, plus other benefits.
We think it's right that the government is proposing it should apply to all ships calling at more than one port in Norway. It would be a level playing field and would have a big effect on a number of Norwegian seafarers and value creation in Norway Daniel Scheldam, CEO at Hurtigruten
Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy Bjørnar Skjæran welcomed the 'very positive signals' by Hurtigruten and said equal wages and working conditions will create a more just working life for seafarers in Norwegian waters, regardless of flag.
Mr Skjæran is planning to issue a legislative white paper in April and aims to see it in law by the autumn.
Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Scheldam told the Maritim Logg union magazine that it has provided Norwegian wage and working conditions for some time.
'We think it's right that the government is proposing it should apply to all ships calling at more than one port in Norway. It would be a level playing field and would have a big effect on a number of Norwegian seafarers and value creation in Norway.'
He promised to be the first operator to bring its international flagged expedition vessels under Norwegian terms if required by law.
Norwegian Seafarers' Union director, cruise operations Lena Dyring said: 'Hurtigruten has two separate operations, Norway and navigation – so ferry and cruise services. They have Norwegian terms and conditions and they want to preserve that. What they don't want is unfair competition from the cruise and from the ferry market, where someone can come in and sail up and down the coast with crews on different terms and conditions than operators based here.
'They want to protect their operation in the Norwegian ordinary ship register.'
National measures to protect domestic markets are not restricted to Norway. Alaskan authorities introduced environmental fees on cruise passengers. 'The whole industry said no-one would want to cruise in Alaska anymore, and it would go down the drain, but people still pay and cruises have increased,' says Ms Dyring.
One of the points for debate in Norway is after how many port calls should Norwegian wages and working conditions apply, with some employers pushing for two, three or even four calls with exemption.
The LO's Peggy Hessen Følsvik said it has fought for Norwegian terms and wages for years, alongside the maritime unions. 'There have been many battles over what should have been a matter of course,' she said. 'But now Norwegian shipping is in good shape and heading towards a more serious working life.
'That Hurtigruten as a company is now choosing to be so clear about wanting decent conditions is a big support to our and the government's work to ensure Norwegian seafarers a credible working life.'