Spanish seafarers demand pensions

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Around 200 Spanish seafarers who sailed on board Norwegian ships and paid tax to Norway are now suing the Norwegian government for pension benefits. They believe they’re entitled to pension payments from Norway, after 30 years of failing to have their demands met.

Spanish seafarers have protested their lack of Norwegian pensions for years, and have now taken their case to court in Oslo. PHOTO: Long Hope Association/Pacific Press Agency

Around 12,000 Spanish seafarers have worked on board Norwegian vessels since the end of World War II, and before that as well. At one point, in the 1960s, Spaniards made up the largest nationality of non-Norwegian seafarers working in the Norwegian merchant marine. Among them was 78-year-old Manuel Rama Mayo, who spent 25 years working for Norwegian shipowners, from 1961 until 1986.

“I think it’s unreasonable that we didn’t have the same rights as the Norwegians we worked with,” Mayo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as he and several other seafarer colleagues demonstrated in front of the Norwegian Parliament on Monday. Even though taxes to Norway were withheld from their wages, the extra tax called trygdeavgift that’s meant to contribute towards pensions in later years, was not. Foreign seafarers were not granted membership in the Norwegian pension system, and they believe that was wrong on the part of the state.

Mayo and his former Spanish shipmates feel they now are paying far too high a price for their inability to build up points in Norway’s pension system that would entitle them to pension payouts. Since they didn’t work in Spain, they didn’t build up credit in their homeland’s pension system either.

Scraping by on EUR 600 a month
That’s left retirees like Mayo with minimal pensions, equivalent to just EUR 600, or around NOK 5,500, per month. They have thus filed suit on the basis they should have been made members of the Norwegian pension system like their Norwegian colleagues automatically were.

“It’ clear that reason and fair treatment under the law should have included all those who worked on board Norwegian ships and paid taxes to Norway in the Norwegian pension system,” Øyvind Østberg, a Norwegian lawyer representing 212 Spanish seafarers and their organization Long Hope, told NRK. “None of the Spaniards lived in Norway. They lived in Spain and were recruited from Spain.”

Østberg claims the Spanish seafarers had no means of paying the extra pension tax when the law prohibited them from becoming members of the Norwegian state pension system. He stressed that the pension tax paid by Norwegian members of the system doesn’t cover the costs of future pension payments anyway: “The Spaniards were taxpayers to the Norwegian state, worked on Norwegian ships and that alone should give them rights to a pension.”

State fights the claims
The state is fighting the Spanish seafarers’ demand, not least because of the claims the state would face from thousands of others if the Spanish seafarers win. That could mean that the state would need to also pay pensions to all the thousands of Spaniards who worked on Norwegian ships until 1994, when they finally did receive pension rights through Norway’s market access agreement with the EU.

“The state believes there is no foundation for their demand,” state attorney Hilde Ruus told NRK. “Beyond that we have no further comment.” The court case was getting underway on Tuesday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund