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In response to matters concerning the lack of pay protections for and the low wages of seafarers hitting the headlines in recent years, the government has put together a nine-point plan to improve working conditions for crews working on ships which frequent UK ports. The Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023 (the “SWA 2023”) is a crucial piece of legislation relating to the first point of the plan. This article highlights the key points of the SWA 2023, in particular, the obligations of harbour authorities and ship owners. 

The UK Government’s nine-point objective is to ensure seafarers working on vessels that regularly use UK ports are paid at least the equivalent of to the UK National Minimum Wage. This does not extend to as many vessels as expected in that the SWA 2023 is only concerned with services that enter a UK harbour 120 times a year. The provisions do not apply to vessels providing domestic services, fishing vessels or leisure craft (to which UK employment law will, in most cases, apply in any event).

Operators of services to which the SWA 2023 applies are required to provide a declaration (the “Declaration”) confirming that crew are paid the UK National Minimum wage or equivalent. Harbour and port authorities are required to request the Declaration and undertake enforcement action in the event of non-compliance, such as imposing a surcharge or preventing harbour access. 

The SWA 2023 applies irrespective of a seafarer’s nationality, place of residence or flag of vessel. A consultation is underway to finalise regulations that would assist with the implementation of the SWA 2023, setting out the form of the Declaration and time frames. Non-compliance by operators or harbours could lead to fines and criminal sanctions. 

The key points for harbour authorities are as follows:

  • The role of the harbour authority is to assist with the practical implementation and enforcement of the SWA 2023; therefore, harbour authorities should be familiar with their duties and obligations under the SWA 2023. 
  • Harbour authorities are required to ask operators to provide a declaration of minimum wage equivalence (the “Declaration”). 
  • In the event operators are unable to provide the Declaration, harbour authorities are required to impose a surcharge and restrict harbour access. 
  • Surcharge funds will be employed for onshore welfare projects. 

The key points for vessel operators are as follows:

  • Operators should be familiar with their obligations under the SWA 2023 and should know whether their services are caught by the SWA 2023. 
  • Operators should review crew wages periodically.
  • Operators should keep adequate records of wages paid (especially in relation to the last 12 months). 
  • Operators must provide the Declaration to the Port/ Harbour Authorities confirming their crew is paid the UK Minimum Wage or a UK Minimum Wage equivalent (where applicable).

Seafarers Wages Act 2023 – How we can help

If you would like advice on how the Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023 might affect you, please contact LA Marine by emailing

Co-written by

Jennie Harris

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