Nautilus continues to express grave concerns around safety and fatigue following plans by P&O to circumvent established Collective Bargaining Agreements and rely on precarious employment.
P&O Ferries announced the reintroduction of Pride of Burgundy after placing the vessel on sale – but crewed entirely with agency staff working lengthier tours of duty on lower wages – due to competition from Irish Ferries. The vessel was withdrawn last year with the company undertaking mass redundancies, ostensibly in response to pressures from the coronavirus pandemic.
Nautilus has maintained that the company's intention to return the vessel to service with agency officers working over the agreed seven days on/seven days off roster, not only undermines the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) but also threatens the safety of short sea operations.
On 3 June, the Union was sent a response to these concerns by the company's fleet safety manager, which claims that the Union has 'misunderstood' the intentions of the company.
In the response, it was stated on behalf of the company that the reintroduction should actually ease the concerns of officers around the financial health of the company and that 'it is not the intention of the company to undermine the terms and condition of employment as agreed in the collective bargaining agreement, or to introduce a manning model or roster pattern outside of that for our employed officers'.
Further, it was claimed that the Union's safety concerns around fatigue were misplaced because the company uses 'a risk-based approach to all our activities, related to both health & safety and our commercial interests', and because there are two operating crews onboard and the vessel exceeds the minimum rest periods required by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
It was added that the shortage of officers willing to work on a seven-day rota meant that it was necessary to use agency officers.
However, none of these arguments addressed the Union's concerns.
'We remain aghast at the company's blasé reintroduction of the Pride of Burgundy on an operating schedule that increases fatigue, and uses seafarers on unsecure employment terms,' Nautilus strategic organiser Martyn Gray said. 'This is a significant safety concern to Nautilus International and the maritime professionals we represent.
'The company, in seeking to circumvent our Collective Bargaining Agreement and ignore established evidence about the safety of the established working pattern, are putting cost ahead of safety at a time where a major incident risks not only the company's own future viability but the reputational integrity of the entire ferry sector.
'The company have been reminded of Project MARTHA & project HORIZON, as well as the company’s own 2012 study of fatigue on the short sea route by Cardiff University, which took place in response to P&O Ferries wishing to make changes to rostering patterns. Following this study, the company withdrew the threat to move to a two week on/two week off working rotational pattern and recognised that fatigue was a significant factor affecting operations and that a risk-based approach mandated the services be operated on a week on/ week off basis.'
Mr Gray pointed out that operations at P&O Ferries on a seven day on/seven day off rotation are essential to safety, and that even with two separate operational crews onboard, week on/week off rosters and 12 hours on/off duty periods, crews still experience significant stress and fatigue from long working hours and short turnaround times in port. This is mitigated by week on/week off operations, which must be seen as necessary in some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
'Endeavouring to generally comply with the established safe rostering pattern in service is not good enough, nor is it good enough for the company to be insisting on longer tours of duty for non-local based agency crews,' he added.
'It is especially hypocritical of the company to ask us to agree to use of agency crew when it decided last year to slash services and make many of our members compulsorily redundant. Now that those members have been forcibly moved on to explore pastures new, the company appears to be lamenting its loss of skill and experience and seeking to exploit unique circumstances in further driving down its cost base.'
Mr Gray also pointed out further issues stemming from the use of agency staff: 'Since the fatigue report in 2012 there has been an overall increase in the stress on permanent crews owing to an over-reliance on agency staff as well as usual issues inherent in an ageing fleet. Agency staff are also subject to the additional pressures, self-induced or otherwise, inherent in precarious employment, as well as typically having a higher rate of turnover and being less familiar with unique vessel operations.
'Therefore, agency staff on the Pride of Burgundy – and operating on tours of duty that are outside of the established roster pattern – represent an unacceptable increase in operational risk and are an accident waiting to happen. We have reiterated our objections to agency crews and have highlighted that P&O Ferries had the opportunity to retain its skilled maritime professionals but actively chose not to do so, further compromising its financial position by paying out unnecessary redundancy payments.
'The research is clear, our concerns are clear, and we do not misunderstand what P&O Ferries are intending; it is P&O that do not understand the potential consequences. P&O Ferries, by putting the safety of maritime professionals and the safety of its passengers behind operational expediency and cost, risk repeating the morbid mistakes made in the history of ferry operations.'