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Major ferry operators slam the government's strategy 'It achieves nothing'

10 March 2023

In the lead up to the anniversary of P&O Ferries' mass-sacking on 17 March, I called on government to close the loopholes in employment legislation that allowed the company to abrogate its responsibilities, and to start working with unions rather than attacking them

P&O Ferries exploited significant loopholes in UK legislation and exposed the serious imbalance between the rights of workers and those of corporations. It turbo charged a race to the bottom and undermined Maritime 2050, the government's flagship policy for the sector.

Despite widespread public anger, the government's response has not protected seafarers from summary dismissal, nor closed the loopholes. The much-vaunted Seafarers' Wages Bill, which will extend national minimum wage coverage to seafarers regularly entering UK ports, is not enough. The Seafarers' Welfare Charter is voluntary and weak, in fact leading UK ferry operators have told me it achieves absolutely nothing and will not protect UK seafarer employment.

Nautilus has taken a pragmatic view – the 9-point plan represents important steps in the right direction, but it cannot be the end of government intervention to support sustainable employment and career opportunities for our maritime professionals. The warning from the ferry industry should cause deep concern and I have urged the government to act without delay.

Government must deliver on its commitment to create minimum wage corridors between the UK and neighbouring countries notably France, Netherlands and Belgium. It must also ensure safe working patterns are part of these arrangements and commit to amending trade union legislation to stop companies from buying their way out of consulting us – and it must outlaw fire and rehire. Company directors who behave like those of P&O Ferries must be held accountable.

As the anniversary of that day approaches the government no doubt plans to laud their delivery of the 9-point plan. At the same time it is also pushing through legislation aimed at undermining the right to strike. Make no mistake this is an attack on your fundamental rights as maritime professionals.

Rather than attacking trade unions and their members the government should work with us. At Nautilus I can promise a willing partner if the aim is a genuine and mutual ambition to grow opportunities for sustainable employment in a strategically important industry and prevent another P&O Ferries scenario from ever happening again.

However, as I write this, I am deeply concerned for the future of Maritime 2050 and the job security of the key workers who underpin the entire sector and who make an immense contribution to our economy.

The next 12 months will prove to be a crucial time for the maritime industry. Does it want to grow and develop the skills base or does it want to go down the P&O Ferries route?

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From the general secretary January February 2023

Welcome to 2023. We have a lot to look forward to this year. In October members will gather in Liverpool for the fourth General Meeting of Nautilus International, to review and renew our strategic priorities for the coming four-year cycle and to cement the future direction of the Union.

In 2022 I presented a mid-term report on our progress to the Council, and members can see my report by logging into My Nautilus.

Over the past four years we have been working hard to future proof the Union through our 2030 Vision. The goal of that vision is to achieve longterm financial sustainability. Part of that vision is to explore a digital future. To create an ever-greater digital experience for our members of the future.

The 2030 Vision has a strong emphasis on internationalism – an important focus given the global nature of our industry and our three branches, the UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland. But it also resonates with our work with likeminded unions in the Nautilus Federation.

It provides a commitment to organise, campaign and deliver innovative services and benefits to members, and continue to provide high quality welfare services to seafarers and their dependants.

A union is only as solid as its members, so I am pleased to see a strong line-up of nominees for the Council elections. Becoming a member of the Council provides an opportunity for you to get involved and help build the future of Nautilus International.

Voting opens in the category requiring an election at the end of January so look out for your elections pack in the post (yes I know it's old fashioned postal ballots but that's the law in the UK so we have to do it).

P&O Ferries one year on

One year on from the scandal of P&O Ferries' unlawful sacking of 786 UK seafarers and it feels very much as if little has changed in labour relations in the UK. The government brought forward legislation to allow agency workers to be hired to break strikes. Further restrictions on the right to strike are now being promised to limit a trade union's ability to take industrial action – especially in the transport sector, with so called minimum service obligations being strongly mooted.

Since that fateful day on 17 March 2022, we have been working hard to ensure the UK government delivers on its nine point plan. The Seafarers' Wages Bill, currently progressing through the houses of parliament, seeks to prevent another P&O Ferries from ever happening again.

The bill needs to be strengthened, but importantly, it won't solve the underlying problem of social dumping in UK and European waters unless commensurate action is taken to deliver the promised bilateral minimum wage corridors with neighbouring countries. The most important of these is with France and we are working with the French seafarer unions to deliver that goal.

We have long been warning governments and the shipping industry of the need for a sustainable approach to maritime skills that serves national and European strategic interests. An approach that drives employment, investment in training, career opportunities and decent living and working conditions for European seafarers.

P&O Ferries and other rogue employers may think they got away with it, but there is still much to fight for and we intend to keep up the pressure.


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