Britannia will no longer rule the waves, if a European Union warning of court action over discriminatory pay for British and overseas workers on ships is followed through. Britain faces a fight in the European Court of Justice if it does not end the discrimination against workers from the likes of the Philippines or India, Brussels warned.
Failure to bring new British equality legislation fully into line with EU law, where the free movement of workers is a defining principle, risks court action unless convincing arguments are provided within two months, the European Commission said.
Britain is "in breach of the obligation to treat EU migrant workers in the same way as national workers in employment-related aspects such as pay," it said in a statement.
Britain's 1976 Race Relations Act allowed shipping companies to treat people from former territories of its empire, or Commonwealth, and elsewhere, differently from UK seafarers.
It "explicitly allows for direct and indirect pay discrimination on the basis of nationality of non-UK seafarers hired abroad to work on UK ships, or working on UK ships outside the UK," Brussels said.
Last year's British Equality Act still gives "special treatment" to shipping, a UK Department of Transport paper acknowledged in May last year.
The commission said that while it "prohibits pay discrimination, the UK government has not yet adopted the further provisions that are necessary to extend this prohibition of pay discrimination to seafarers and work on ships."
The commission maintains that the Court of Justice "has clarified that EU law on free movement of workers fully applies in shipping, and applies also to work that takes place outside the territory of the EU" in most cases.
About 28,000 British national work in the UK shipping industry, which boasts annual turnover running at more than 8.0 billion pounds (9.3 billion euros or 12.8 billion dollars).
Another almost 13,000 come from elsewhere -- well over half from the Philippines, Ukraine, Russia and India.
Less than 2,500 of those come from other EU countries, such as Poland and Bulgaria.
Shipping owners in London argued during the bill's passage through parliament that more than 40 per cent of British-flagged shipping capacity could move to rival maritime centres such as Singapore to escape the extra costs.