Nautilus is consulting members working at P&O Ferries on possible action in defence of safety, as the company continues with its plan to reintroduce the Pride of Burgundy on the short sea route but entirely crewed with agency staff.
The vessel was removed from the route during the pandemic, despite warnings from Nautilus which maintained that operations would likely resume following removal of pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Facing competition as pandemic restrictions began to diminish, P&O Ferries contacted the Union about the reintroduction of Pride of Burgundy with solely agency crew, providing the proposed salary scales for officers – lower than existing salary scales – and advising that the company wished for officers to work over the agreed 7 days on/7 days off roster.
When the Union rejected this as unsafe because the present scheduling of 7 on/7 off is essential to minimising the impacts of fatigue on the highly intensive Dover-Calais route, and also a violation of the CBA, P&O Ferries said it would go ahead regardless. Senior Management added that they had already agreed this with other unions, and they had received legal advice that the ship sits outside the CBA.
Nautilus asked the company to give a definitive response and present this legal advice, which P&O Ferries has now done, but Nautilus rejects this advice. In response, Charles Boyle, Nautilus director of legal services, has written to the company's lawyers but the Union has not yet received a reply.
The initial response gave no satisfactory defence of P&O Ferries' intended operation, selection and scheduling for the reintroduction of Pride of Burgundy, nor did it alleviate the chief concerns surrounding fatigue and safety, Nautilus head of industrial Micky Smyth said.
'We are close to a dispute with P&O Ferries through non-compliance with the terms expressed under the CBA,' Mr Smyth said. 'It is apparent that the company is acting in bad faith and seeking to enter further into a race to the bottom, becoming a low cost/high profit operator that exploits its skilled maritime professionals. All officers, whether they are permanent employees or working on a temporary basis have always worked as per our agreed working roster and we will never compromise on safety, given the hectic and intense working schedule on the Dover-Calais route.
'P&O' Ferries plan to utilise agency labour to circumvent the established collective bargaining agreements compromises the safety of all Dover-Calais operations as well as the integrity of the established terms and conditions of employment.
cWe are attempting to convince P&O Ferries and established operators to maintain safe operations in the face of competition from opportunistic budget operators; but we cannot agree to schedules of work that compromise the safety of our maritime professionals.
'Whilst other unions might be able to position themselves through the hypocrisy of agreeing to redundancies and consenting to seafarer scheduling that increases fatigue, Nautilus will continue to act in defence of jobs and safety of operations.
'We are therefore asking members operating Short Sea on Dover-Calais to tell us which options they would support in the event of a formal dispute and potential ballot for industrial action to defend their terms and conditions and ensure that safety standards are upheld.'