Two months after losing the leadership race to Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak has been given a second chance at running the United Kingdom after winning the latest Tory leadership competition.
At his first Prime Minister's Questions opposite labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Sunak announced that he will "Always protect the most vulnerable." – we ask, what will this mean for people living, working, or transiting at sea?
The International Labour Organization's (ILO) (2007) Work in Fishing Convention (C188) came into force in the UK in January 2020.
The Convention's objectives are to ensure that fishers have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels concerning minimum requirements for work on board, conditions of service; accommodation and food; occupational safety and health protection; medical care and social security.
However, UK immigration loopholes still allow the fishing industry to exploit migrant fishers.
In May 2022, Nottingham University led an independent investigation into the working conditions across the UK fishing fleet. The report highlighted that the average salary for migrant fishers is £3.51 per hour, 35% reported encountering physical violence, and more than 60% (including UK nationals) stated they would never report a grievance.
Not only must the Government do more to protect the fishing workforce in the UK, but they should also actively push for the adoption of ILO 188 by other states.
Migration and Refugees
Sunak, whose family immigrated to the UK from East Africa, has pledged to deliver on the Conservative's 2019 manifesto, including commitments to implement an Australia-style point system for immigration and update the Human Rights Act. Sunak stated on his website to do "whatever it takes" to keep the Rwanda policy which will allow the Government to send people who are seeking to migrate to the UK, including asylum seekers, to Rwanda. Many of these people arrived via so-called 'small boats' across the Channel. In reality, some of these boats are little more than rafts, with people facing deadly conditions at sea to get to the UK.
Suella Braverman, whose parents immigrated to the UK in the 1960s and whose "dream" it is to see asylum seekers sent to Rwanda, has returned as Home Secretary just days after resigning for breaching the ministerial code.
Braverman has also called for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in favour of The Bill of Rights. Sunak has suggested he would consider the proposal, and if they are successful, the UK will join Russia as the only other country to withdraw from the ECHR.
Following the P&O Ferries scandal, which saw 800 seafarers made redundant, the Government proposed The Seafarers' Wages Bill.
The Bill seeks to grant protection to those working on ships that regularly use UK ports by guaranteeing they are paid at least an equivalent rate to the UK National Minimum Wage while in UK waters, irrespective of the nationality of the seafarer or flag of the vessel.
Labour MP Lord Tunnicliffe said: "I suspect few of us understood just how badly seafarers are treated."
Human Rights at Sea believes this is a positive move. Still, it is only a first step in ensuring fair treatment for people at sea and is a reminder of how badly some private companies will behave if not restrained by law and regulation.
We must ensure that human, labour, and social rights protections for people at sea consistently remain at the top of the new Government's political agenda. Finally, we call on the new Government to formally accept our long-held assertion, accede to the recent request of the House of Lords Defence and International Relations Committee, and state unequivocally that universal human rights apply at sea, just as they do on land.
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