Nautilus International has informed management at P&O Ferries that it will defend members' terms and conditions of employment and will not compromise on safety, after the company announced its intention to reintroduce a fifth ship on the Dover-Calais route crewed entirely with agency staff.
The Pride of Burgundy served 26 years on the Dover-Calais route but was laid up last year due to a fall in passenger numbers during the pandemic, with the loss of multiple officer positions through redundancies.
At the time, Nautilus International advised the Dubai-owned company that this would sacrifice too much capacity and risk market share. These concerns were dismissed by senior management.
Now Irish Ferries is entering the short sea as a competitor, which has prompted P&O Ferries to bring back the Pride of Burgundy as the fifth vessel on the route.
P&O Ferries contacted Nautilus International, asking the Union to agree to the reintroduction of Pride of Burgundy with solely agency crew. The company provided the proposed salary scales for officers – lower than existing salary scales – and advised that the company wished for all crew to work a two weeks on/two weeks off roster.
This was rejected by the Union, which responded that all officers would need to be paid according to the current salary scales. Additionally, safety should not be compromised, and terms and conditions must be adhered to, including the week on/week off working roster.
The company then told Nautilus that they had received legal advice that Pride of Burgundy sits outside the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and said that it is prepared to go ahead with its plans to reintroduce the vessel. The company have stated that Nautilus are the only union they have not reached agreement with regarding the reintroduction of the fifth ship.
'Seemingly P&O senior management seek to break faith with us once more, and they continue to fail to respect their own seagoing maritime professionals whom Nautilus represents,' said Nautilus head of industrial Micky Smyth.
'I have written to Mr Hebblethwaite [managing director, ROPAX] at P&O Ferries reiterating that the reason why a competitor is entering the Dover-Calais route is down to senior management vacating the berthing slots. They have reaped what they have sowed.'
Mr Smyth noted that Union negotiators are 'astounded' that the company is asking for Nautilus's assistance in defending it from competition on the short sea route, while simultaneously trying to undermine terms and conditions.
'We remain committed to preserving the safety of operations on the Dover-Calais route as well as preserving the agreed salaries and terms and conditions for the responsibilities of the maritime professionals represented by Nautilus International,' he said.
'Our agreement protects against fatigue and safety concerns. That ensures P&O ferries, crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, are operated by skilled maritime professionals who have had sufficient rest to respond to the rapidly evolving challenges of cross Channel services.
'Whilst other social partners might be willing to compromise the safety of their members and the integrity of their collective agreements, Nautilus is not. Especially when last year P&O Ferries confirmed it had no wish to capture volume if it could not be captured profitably. P&O Ferries senior management has made it clear that they wish to defend their business; Nautilus has made it clear that we will defend the terms and conditions, and primarily the safety, of our maritime professionals.
'We continue to look forward to a formal, definitive response from P&O Ferries. We want them to explain exactly how their "legal advice" has determined that the Pride of Burgundy sits outside our CBA.
'Nautilus International considers it quite clear that the CBA is applicable. Nautilus has consistently highlighted the ferry operator's failure to recognise schedules in its existing collective bargaining agreement over numerous months.
'We have categorically informed P&O Ferries that any attempt to circumvent the established terms and conditions for the officers we represent will place us in dispute. We will take any and all appropriate steps.'