Brittany Ferries signs historic charters to protect seafarers rights

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Brittany Ferries chief executive Christophe Mathieu, and president Jean-Marc Roué met in Paris this week to sign ground-breaking voluntary charters which will protect the rights of hard-working seafarers on the English Channel. The event was hosted by French shipping minister Hervé Berville, who was joined by his UK counterpart, the maritime minister Baroness Vere.

The charters are a complement to laws mandating minimum wages for sailors on ferries operating cross-Channel routes. In the UK, the Seafarers Wages Act was made law in March 2023. In France, the loi Le Gac sur le dumping social (named after the Breton member of parliament who drafted it) passed the final stage of the legislative process.

Letter from Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries 24.07.2023

It’s time to dump the “social dumpers” (companies which sack seafarers and replace with cheap labour)

Dear Friends,

I am writing this message to you from Paris, following a very important day for our business, for the wider ferry sector and for all hard-working seafarers.

You will recall the news 16 months ago when one of our competitors sacked 800 loyal seafarers by Zoom call. Everyone was rightly horrified by their actions and by what followed.

It was a cynical exercise that punished those who had worked so hard to keep essential goods and services moving during the Covid crisis. Many had also served this company loyally for decades.

But while this operator felt the immediate wrath of media, government officials and customers they are not the only guilty players in our sector. I have to tell you that others have operated a low-cost model for many, many years and this situation has created real tension for those of us who believe in doing the right thing. Bottom line: because their staffing costs are far lower than ours, they are able to compete on a completely different playing field. That is plain wrong. 

But the winds of change are blowing. I am delighted to say that, thanks to the determined actions of governments in France and the UK, another nail has been hammered into the coffin of this practice we call “social dumping”.

Over the last few months, two voluntary charters have been drafted by the French and British to separate the good guys from the bad. While they are not laws, they are a complement to regulation on both sides of the Channel which primarily mandate minimum levels of pay. The Seafarers Wages Act in the UK is now law. Last week an equivalent regulation was passed in France.

The voluntary charters on the other hand are primarily about working conditions for crew. Let me ask you a question. Would you prefer to travel on a ship staffed by seafarers who work a pattern of one-week-on, one-week-off to ensure they are properly rested? Or are you happy to travel on a vessel staffed by exhausted, poorly-paid galley slaves, who have been working solidly for months without a break?

It’s an easy answer I hope for many reasons, the most important of which is safety.

So today I have been with UK shipping minister Baroness Vere in Paris. I met her last week in Portsmouth and was delighted she shares our displeasure with unacceptable pay and working conditions.

Our host in Paris was her counterpart, the French shipping minister Hervé Berville. He too has been a strong advocate for seafarer protection, tirelessly fighting our corner on this issue alongside our president Jean-Marc Roué and representatives of the regions in which we operate.

We became one of the first signatories to the two charters of Baroness Vere and Herve Berville. But I’m glad to say we were not alone 

Condor Ferries, Stena Line and DFDS joined us in Paris. These companies may be competitors, but they are competitors who are committed to doing the right thing, to supporting their seafarers and ensuring they are paid properly and their working conditions are good.

I salute them all for their refusal to join in a race to the bottom, choosing instead to aim for the highest bar.

Social dumping is unacceptable on so many levels. Commercially it creates market distortion, under-cutting those who pay a fair price to trade. Financially it benefits those doing the wrong thing. And  perhaps most importantly, morally it stinks!

As we open our books for the 2024 season, I would like to thank you for playing your part. You are choosing a carrier whose costs may be higher than others at the moment, but which believes in paying a fair wage and offering excellent working conditions for staff.

And until social dumping is finally a thing of the past, I hope many more customers – freight and passengers – will turn their backs on those making a fast buck on the misery of their staff..

I hope everyone will line up behind the actions being taken today to separate the good from the bad. I urge everyone to choose an operator that puts people first, whether that operator is Brittany Ferries or one of our competitors in Paris today.

It’s time to dump the social dumpers!

Sincerely,

Christophe

CEO, Brittany Ferries