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While Nautilus and the RMT have been battling for UK members' rights at P&O Ferries, a sister union across the North Sea has been showing that big companies can't have it all their own way. Andrew Draper reports
There's power in a union – as evidenced recently when shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk backed down on its Covid restrictions imposed on crews after the intervention of Danish officers' union Metal Maritime.
Metal Maritime invoked its right to take Maersk to a hearing at the shipowners' association Danish Shipping, as part of a complaints procedure under Danish labour law that is destined to end in the special Labour Court. The union contends the company breached the Seafarers' Act and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), as well as the main collective bargaining agreement for navigators and officers.
Metal Maritime leader Ole Philipsen says his union recognises that restrictions were introduced to limit the spread of Covid-19, but insists these were done by democratic means through government and parliament.
Maersk's action, to ban all going ashore from Danish-flagged vessels because of the omicron variant, is a 'clear breach' of MLC and Section 58 of the Seafarers Act, says Mr Philipsen. It is also in disregard of 'the Danish Model', which enshrines the principle of consultation, dialogue and negotiation between unions and employers. The ban was introduced without informing the Danish Maritime Authority or unions.
The Seafarers' Act of 1892 guaranteed seafarers the right to go ashore when their ship was in port, and since 1923 seafarers have specifically neither needed to ask nor inform the captain that they were going ashore. They may be asked to stay aboard in special circumstances, but by the captain alone, the union says.
Metal Maritime contacted Maersk, initially believing the ban was a mistake and a misunderstanding of the rules. It was greatly surprised by the reply that there was no misunderstanding – and there were no plans to change the ban.
After some email exchanges, the union reported Maersk to the DMA for breaches of the act and convention. The DMA said it had made no decision on the matter.
On 11 March, Maersk announced it was lifting the restrictions on going ashore on all its ships worldwide, but Metal Maritime is pursuing its action regardless as the company has in its view broken the law.
AP Moller-Maersk chief press officer Povl Rasmussen commented: 'We are aware that Metal Maritime have reported this. The collective safety of our crews has been of paramount importance throughout the pandemic, and it is important to state that we have not had a general direction regarding shore leave. Instead, each port and the local situation have been assessed individually and our recommendation has been based on that.
'Our guidelines were changed last week, and we no longer have any recommendations limiting our crew members' shore leave in ports globally.'