UNION members protested at Aberdeen harbour yesterday over claims Northern Isles ferry crews are being paid almost half the minimum wage.

The RMT said foreign crew on vessels Hellier and Hildasay, operated by Seatruck and contracted by the Scottish Government through Serco Northlink, earn as little as £4 an hour.

Seatruck said the minimum wage was not applicable to the crew because many are non-UK residents.

Speaking at the protest yesterday, RMT regional organiser Gordon Martin said: “We’re here today because of the ship of shame – the Seatruck vessel on the Scottish Government contract – is paying below the national minimum wage, way below the living wage, and exploiting foreign workers.

“This is a government contract so surely if Seatruck are not paying what the government believes to be an acceptable rate of pay the contract should be null and void.”

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said last week that Serco Northlink would be asked to make sure a national minimum wage was paid.

A Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government is deeply disappointed that Seatruck has once again rejected Serco’s offer to pay their staff the minimum wage and backdate this.

“Scottish ministers are working with stakeholders on the next Northern Isles Ferry Service contract. Work is being done to ensure that any future subcontractors pay the minimum wage, regardless of where the company or crew are based.”

Jake Molloy, of the RMT in Aberdeen and vice chair of the offshore co-ordinating group of trade unions, said that as recently as last year, workers were being paid as little as £3.66 an hour and, since then, there had only been small improvements in pay. He said the campaign and protest was to highlight to the public “what’s going on in our name”.

Seatruck said: “Under current legislation the national minimum wage is not applicable to the crew of these vessels. The crew are not deemed to be ‘ordinarily working in the UK’ as they are working on a non-UK flagged vessel, are not UK residents, do not pay tax or NI in the UK and start and finish their tours of duty in their home countries.

“Seatruck Ferries operates in a worldwide shipping market where NMW application in isolation would place the company at a serious disadvantage in relation to its competitors.”

Stuart Garrett, managing director at NorthLink Ferries, said: “We are aware the RMT held a protest this morning in Aberdeen to highlight the ongoing issue with Seatruck’s rate of pay to their crew members.“Serco charters two cargo vessels from Seatruck as part of the NorthLink ferry service in Scotland. Since being advised of this issue [pay] we have sought to ensure that all workers on the service receive the UK minimum wage, irrespective of the specific legal requirements.

“We have been trying to address the issue with Seatruck since 2014, and have repeatedly made offers to pay them an amount that would fully cover the additional cost of paying the UK minimum wage.

“Seatruck, part of the Clipper Group, have refused to accept this offer.”