Minimum wage: seafarers and other people working at sea – GOV.UK

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Guidance on when seafarers and other persons who work at sea are entitled to the minimum wage.
This guidance explains when seafarers and other persons who work at sea are entitled to the minimum wage. It provides examples of when UK minimum wage law applies to seafarers working on UK and non-UK registered ships.
It expands on the guidance provided in the main Calculating the minimum wage.
It is to help workers, employers, and overseas crewing agencies calculate national minimum wage (NMW) entitlement.
It covers the changes made to the National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) Order 1999 (SI1128) which came into force on 1 October 2020.
These changes extended the right to the minimum wage to:
Previously only seafarers who ordinarily work in the UK were entitled to the national minimum wage when working in the UK territorial waters or if they worked on a UK registered ship and were ordinarily resident in the UK.
Seafarer statistics provide more on numbers of seafarers in the UK.
Please note that this guidance will help you gain and check your understanding of the minimum wage rules, but it can’t provide definitive answers to individual queries. You should always seek advice on specific circumstances, as each case may be different.
Whether you are a worker or employer, if you are unsure about any aspect of national minimum wage entitlement you can contact the ACAS Helpline on 0300 123 1100.
Government guidelines published by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) define a seafarer as anyone who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship. As well as the master and crew of a seagoing ship, this could include persons in customer facing roles, and other persons who are employed by a franchise company to work on board. It may also include self-employed persons who work on board the ship engaged in the business of the ship, for example offshore technicians who eat and sleep aboard the ship.
However, the Offshore Employment Order 1999 (as amended) applies more broadly than this and is not limited just to seafarers. Rather it applies minimum wage legislation to most workers working in the UK territorial waters on domestic voyages or engaged in offshore employment in the UK section of the continental shelf. This includes seafarers on board a ship, as well as other workers not on board ships, for example workers on oil and gas installations.
The exception to this is that workers on a ship exercising innocent or transit passage are not covered by the 1999 Order. They may however still be covered by minimum wage legislation if they ordinarily work in the UK – see Innocent passage and transit passage.
In this guidance ‘national minimum wage’ (NMW) refers to all the minimum wage rates specified in the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015, made under the 1998 Act. This includes age-specific rates of minimum wage and the national living wage. See:
The 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) defines territorial waters as the belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.
Most workers on ships within UK territorial waters on a domestic voyage are entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage. This is the case whether or not:
A worker is eligible for the national minimum wage if they are working in the United Kingdom sector of the continental shelf in connection with:
Most workers in the United Kingdom over compulsory school age are entitled to be paid at least national minimum wage rates. A worker is defined in the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, section 54(3) as someone who has entered into or works or worked under:
Under the Maritime Labour Convention, a ship owner is required to have a Seafarers Employment Agreement with every individual seafarer working on their vessel, other than ships engaged in fishing or in similar pursuits and ships of traditional build such as dhows and junks. The Convention does not apply to warships or naval auxiliaries.
However, the international nature of the maritime industry can often make the position of the national minimum wage complex in terms of entitlement, jurisdiction and enforcement.
The 1998 Act applies the national minimum wage to the work of someone who ‘is working, or ordinarily works’ in the UK.
From 1 October 2020 seafarers regarded as working or ordinarily working in the UK now include those who work or ordinarily work:
See the legislation
Seafarers on a UK flagged ship are entitled to the NMW for work performed outside the UK if they ordinarily work in the UK. Seafarers working on a UK flagged ship are treated as ordinarily working in the UK if:
See the legislation:
Seafarers on a non-UK flagged ship are entitled to the NMW for work performed outside the UK if they ‘ordinarily work’ in the UK.
It is necessary to consider the circumstances of the employment to ascertain whether the seafarer has a sufficiently strong connection to the UK. Criteria considered when deciding whether someone ordinarily works in the UK might include:
See the legislation:
The legislation makes provision for agency workers to be entitled to the national minimum wage where they would not otherwise be defined as a ‘worker’ because they do not have a worker’s contract with either the agency or the principal hirer. Workers are still entitled to national minimum wage if they are working in the UK territorial waters on a domestic voyage, even if the crewing agents are based overseas.
See the legislation:
Vessels entering UK territorial waters as part of an international voyage, are considered to be under innocent passage, and are not affected by UK minimum wage legislation.
Examples include:
The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) state that for ‘innocent passage’ to apply, “passage shall be ‘continuous and expeditious’, including ‘stopping and anchoring but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.”
Similarly, vessels exercising the right of transit passage will likewise not be affected by UK minimum wage legislation. Transit passage refers to navigation through straits which connect the high seas. There are 8 straits around the UK: the English Channel, the Strait of Dover, the Solent, the North Channel, Pentland Firth, the Swale, the Minch and the Gulf of Corryvrekan). For the purposes of international law straits are defined as waterways ‘used for international navigation between one part of the high seas or an Exclusive Economic Zone and another part of the high seas or an Exclusive Economic Zone.’
There is further guidance on exemptions.
The national minimum wage does not apply to excluded persons as set out in the legislation. Share fishermen are listed as excluded persons.
See the legislation:
‘Fisherman’ means a person, including the skipper, employed, engaged, or working in any capacity on board any fishing vessel, but does not include a person solely engaged as a pilot for the vessel.
Some fishers are share fishers. A ‘share fisherman’ is defined as a person:
(a) employed as master, or as a member of the crew, of a fishing vessel, and
(b) remunerated, in respect of that employment, only by a share in the profits or gross earnings of the vessel
Share fishermen do not qualify for the national minimum wage in respect of that employment.
The right of share fishers to the minimum wage for any other work undertaken, for example, as a guard vessel, depends on the nature of the contract and the circumstances of the case.
The national minimum wage does not apply to certain types of work, which include:
See the legislation:
We have provided some examples of how the legislation may be applied under specific circumstances. For simplicity we have assumed the following is true for all of these examples:
Example 1: UK or non-UK registered ship working in the UK territorial waters
A vessel operates from one UK port or between 2 or more UK ports without calling at a port outside the UK.
Example 2: UK or non-UK registered ship working in support of activities connected to the exploitation or exploration of the UK continental shelf
Example 3: Ship is registered in the UK. Seafarer is ordinarily resident in the UK and some work is performed within the UK.
A seafarer is employed on a ferry company operating between Port A in Great Britain and Port B in France.
Example 4: Ship is registered outside the UK. Seafarer is ordinarily resident in the UK and majority of work is performed within the UK.
A seafarer is employed on a ferry company operating between Port A in Great Britain and Port B in France.
Example 5: Ship is registered in the UK. Seafarer is ordinarily resident in the UK and all work is performed outside the UK.
A UK flagged ship travels from point A outside the UK, to point B which is also outside the UK.
Example 6: Ship is registered in the UK. Seafarer is not ordinarily resident in the UK and all work is performed outside the UK.
A UK flagged ship travels from point A outside the UK, to point B which is also outside the UK.
Example 7: Ship not registered in the UK on innocent passage or transiting UK waters.
A non-UK flagged ship is travelling from Port A, which is not in the UK to Port B, which is also not in the UK. In order to do so it must pass through UK territorial waters. None of the workers ordinarily work in the UK.
This is an example of ‘innocent or transit passage’ and the workers are not entitled to NMW.
See the manual: Enforcing the minimum wage.
The government is committed to increasing compliance with national minimum wage legislation and effective enforcement of it.
Everyone who is entitled to the minimum wage should receive it.
Where workers are not paid at least national minimum wage they can seek to enforce their entitlement through an Employment Tribunal or the County Court. Alternatively, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) enforces the UK national minimum wage, and they can investigate employers and respond to complaints from workers.
A seafarer who has a question about the national minimum wage or believes they may not have received what they are legally entitled to can call the ACAS Workplace Advice Helpline (0300 123 1100). This is a free and confidential number, through which workers can also make direct complaints of non-payment of the national minimum wage. Third party complaints can also be submitted via the ACAS Helpline.
Seafarers can also complain directly to HMRC using this online form.
Every complaint made is considered by HMRC for investigation.
Where HMRC finds that an employer has not paid national minimum wage, it will issue a Notice of Underpayment requiring the employer to pay arrears to the worker. The employer may also be required to pay a penalty to the UK government and be considered for naming under the National Minimum Wage Naming Scheme.
See further information on national minimum wage enforcement.
The Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013 set out when claims may be presented to Employment Tribunals (including for National Minimum Wage complaints) – see the Calculating the minimum wage guidance.
A claim may be presented in an employment tribunal in England, Wales, or Scotland if:
A seafarer does not need to be a British National to bring a claim, nor does the ship need to be registered in the UK.
See the legislation:
See employment-related tribunals information relating to Northern Ireland
Guidance explaining how seafarers’ eligibility for the minimum wage was affected by October 2020 legislation with examples to show how the legislation might apply in specific circumstances.
First published.
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