A few days ago, on 23 March 2023, the Seafarers’ Wages Bill, which was first introduced in the House of Lords in July 2022, received Royal Assent and became law. The Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023, as it is now called, is designed to protect seafarers who work on vessels operating an international service, but have close ties to the UK, from being paid less than the UK national minimum wage (NMW) while they are in UK waters.
To this effect, operators of vessels calling at UK ports on at least 120 occasions during a year are required to produce evidence of paying their crew the equivalent to the UK’s NMW, which, as of April 2023, will be £10.42 for those over the age of 23, £10.18 for 21-22 year-olds and £7.49 for 18-20 year-olds. While the Act specifies that the necessary evidence should be manifested in a NMW equivalence declaration, regulations made by the Secretary of State will specify the period within which, and the manner in which, the equivalence declaration is to be provided, as well as the form of the declaration.
For those operators who fail to provide the equivalence declaration or provide the equivalence declaration but operate their ship inconsistently with the declaration, the Act provides that harbour authorities have an obligation to impose a charge in respect of each occasion when their ship enters the port, as well as to refuse port access if they fail to pay the relevant charges. The amount of a surcharge is to be determined by a tariff of surcharges specified in regulations.
The Act finally creates a series of offences. For example, operators of vessels will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine if an equivalence declaration is provided but the service is operated inconsistently. Whereas harbour authorities which fail to request an equivalence declaration or fail to comply with their duty to impose a surcharge or to refuse access to their port, will also face that risk.
Although the main provisions of the Act have not come into force yet, any operators who continue to pay their crew at a rate below the UK NMW should start making the necessary arrangements, if they wish to continue using UK ports on a regular basis without any interruptions.
 For more details, see our previous post < https://iistl.blog/2022/12/07/seafarers-wages-bill-are-good-intentions-enough/> .
 According to section 20 (3) of the Seafarers’ Wages Act 2023, sections 3 to 15 will come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint.