Spanish seamen’s case nears court / News / The Foreigner

Spanish seamen’s case nears court. Litigation regarding the Norwegian government’s non-payment of pensions is pending. The case involves the rights of some 12,000 Spanish seamen who worked aboard Norwegian Merchant Fleet vessels for a period of 44 years from 1950. The EEA Agreement, to which Norway is a signatory, took effect on 1st January 1994. In an interview in Oslo last year, Long Hope spokesperson Alberto Paz Viñas told The Foreigner that he believes the sum that the Norwegian state owes all surviving seafarers or their families is EUR 400m-520m.

spain, sailors, pension, tax, norway, ships



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Spanish seamen’s case nears court

Published on Monday, 7th December, 2015 at 17:35 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last Updated on 7th December 2015 at 18:38.

Litigation regarding the Norwegian government’s non-payment of pensions is pending.

Oslo District Courthouse (illus. ph.)
Oslo District Courthouse (illus. ph.)
Photo: WireImage/Ragnar Singsaas/Contributor


The case involves the rights of some 12,000 Spanish seamen who worked aboard Norwegian Merchant Fleet vessels for a period of 44 years from 1950. The EEA Agreement, to which Norway is a signatory, took effect on 1st January 1994.

In an interview in Oslo last year, Long Hope spokesperson Alberto Paz Viñas told The Foreigner that he believes the sum that the Norwegian state owes all surviving seafarers or their families is EUR 400m-520m.

Pressure to find a solution has been mounting since members of Galicia-based body the Long Hope Association travelled to Oslo last year for talks with Norwegian government officials, the Spanish Embassy, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Moreover, MEP Lidia Senra Rodriguez sent a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the beginning of 2015.

She demanded that the government enforces Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the coordination of social security systems.

“Under the Regulation, which specifies that in the case of the sailors who have paid contributions to Norway before 1994, this country must respect the transitional provisions set out in the new simplified Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004,” the letter reads.

The Regulation’s Article 87, paragraph 4 is also referred to.

“Any benefit which has not been awarded or which has been suspended by reason of nationality or place of residence of the person concerned shall, at the request of that person, be provided or resumed with effect from the date of application of this Regulation in the Member State concerned, provided that the rights for which benefits were previously provided have not given rise to a lump-sum settlement,” states the legislation.

Declined

Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Robert Eriksson
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Robert Eriksson
Progress Party/Flickr
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Robert Eriksson replied to Ms Rodriguez MEP in April. His letter, a copy of which The Foreigner has, states that this was at the request of PM Solberg.

He points out that Norway’s National Insurance Act prior to 1994 stipulated that foreign nationals employed on board vessels flagged in Norway was only fully-insured under the National Insurance Scheme if he/she “was resident in Norway or one of the other Nordic states.”

“As the Spanish seafarers in question did not reside in Norway or one of the other Nordic states, they were not insured under that scheme.”

The same conditions apply to the Norwegian Pension Insurance Scheme for Seafarers, the Minister says.

No contributions to either scheme were collected from the seafarers or their employers (amongst others, the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association), it is pointed out.

“The lack of membership in the relevant schemes and the corresponding lack of paid contributions mean that no pension rights have been acquired.”

Spanish seamen were only covered in case of work accidents and illness, with the possibility of awarding funds from the National Insurance Scheme. Ship-owners’ monthly contribution financed this coverage. This only applied during periods of actual service on board the vessels, explains the Minister.

“It follows from the above mentioned facts that the transitional provisions of Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 do not apply to the seafarers concerned,” he writes.

MEP Lidia Senra Rodriguez’ request for a bilateral agreement between the Norwegian and Spanish governments to resolve the issue was declined.

“It is deemed neither desirable nor feasible to allow foreign seafarers, who were employees on board Norwegian vessels prior to 1994, to become members of the two pension schemes with retroactive effect through the means of a bilateral agreement or through any unilateral action,” Minister Robert Eriksson states.

“Neglected rights”                                   

Long Hope Association meeting
Long Hope Association meeting
From the Association's Facebook page
The Long Hope Association has engaged lawyer Øivind Østberg to represent them and some of the plaintiffs.

He informs The Foreigner that his clients, all of them Spanish citizens, number 218. 40 of the plaintiffs are survivors of former sailors and are claiming a widow’s pension.

What are you arguing?

“The government is obliged to accept that pension rights are acquired with what they will refer to as retroactive effect under EU law and the European Convention of Human Rights,” he says. “In reality I would say it is rather a matter of not to continue with previous discrimination. It means that my clients would have to receive their pensions now, and that the government is obliged to pay back what should have been reimbursed earlier.”

“This is because the seamen’s rights were neglected before the EEA Agreement took effect. Payment would be of great importance to my clients, as they are living their lives now and need payment now,” he continues.

Mr Østberg has sent the Norwegian government a 17-page-plus claim (plus attachments) for recognition of social security rights under Norwegian litigation law.

Silent                       

Labour and Social Affairs Ministry officials have not formally replied to Mr Østberg’s claim, as yet.

“I’ve been in contact with them, but they’ve said that they’ll probably need the rest of the year to come with an answer,” he says.

 What time limit have you set for a reply before proceeding further?

“I don’t think I can give them much longer than up to January.”

The case will be brought before Oslo District Court if there is no answer or agreement within this timeframe.

Long Hope Association’s Mr Alberto Paz Viñas has talked of taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights’ First Instance if the matter is not resolved in their favour. What can you say about that?

Long Hope Association
Long Hope Association
©2014 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner
“We foresee a different trajectory, as we think that Oslo District Court Judges will refer the case to the EFTA Court.”

“The judges there will give their opinion on precise questions regarding interpretation of relevant EU law with respect to this case. It is understood that Norway is bound to follow any ruling against her,” adds Mr Østberg.

And what if the matter goes to Norway’s Supreme Court?

“Well, so be it. And then it will be brought before the European Court of Human Rights if we lose.”

The Long Hope Association also alleges the Norwegian State has violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of the right to possessions), in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination).

“It will then be up to ECHR judges to decide whether Norway has breached the Convention on the grounds of discrimination, even if this should be held not to follow from EU law for technical reasons,” Mr Østberg concludes.

A Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs spokesperson comments that “the case is still pending.”



Published on Monday, 7th December, 2015 at 17:35 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last updated on 7th December 2015 at 18:38.

This post has the following tags: spain, sailors, pension, tax, norway, ships.





  
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