UK maritime union RMT today slammed the European Union for missing a golden opportunity to link staid aid for the shipping industry to the creation of jobs and the improvement of training in what the union describes as a body blow for the industry which will allow shipping companies to continue to exploit the tonnage tax for their own purposes while putting little or nothing back.
The European Commission announced that it was reviewing the operation of the State Aide Guidelines (SAGS) in the maritime sector in 2009 with a specific focus on the status of Tonnage Tax schemes operated by member states. A number of EU Member State, including Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Greece and Cyprus operate Tonnage Tax schemes in order to attract ship owners to their flag registers. The Commission have now produced their conclusions which RMT says fail to call to account the corporate beneficiaries of this state aid on the crucial issue of jobs and training.
The UK Tonnage Tax is unique in that it contains a mandatory link to provide training for UK seafarers but this only applies to officers. There is a voluntary link to provide training for UK ratings but shipping companies ignore this. Whilst this has led to a doubling in the number of trainee UK officer cadets, it has bypassed UK ratings, whose numbers continue to decline and fell below 10,000 in 2012. RMT is arguing for a mandatory link to provide ratings training in the UK Tonnage Tax scheme. The EU had a chance to make that link but have blown it.
After 4 years of gathering evidence from industry and ETF affiliated unions, including RMT, the verdict from the unelected EU Commissioner for Competition is that Tonnage Tax schemes should be left alone, in line with what the UK and European shipping industry consistently demanded. In fact, the then President of the UK Chamber of Shipping, Helen Drabble expressed confidence well before the final decision was reached:
“There is more work ahead as the European Commission considers tonnage tax as part of its review on state aid guidelines. But the positive dialogue the UK Chamber has had with European officials on this issue so far this year makes us optimistic.” – Pg 2, UK Chamber of Shipping Annual Review 2012-13.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:
“RMT believes that the Tonnage Tax , wherever it operates, is a form of state aid, designed to use tax breaks to attract ship owners to a flag register. Not only does the current, cut price sale of the Red Ensign bring the UK flag into direct competition with Flags of Convenience, it demonstrates a total ignorance of the needs of the maritime skills base in the UK.
“The EU have slammed the door on enforcing a link between ratings training and state aid and that it a massive kick in the teeth for RMT members in the shipping industry.”
“The union supports the ETF’s efforts to highlight the narrow, employer-led conclusions that the unelected Commissioner Almunia has reached in this tawdry episode of neo-liberal collusion between the European Commission and the European shipping industry.