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Nautilus members working at Isle of Man Steam Packet Company have forced their employer to withdraw its notices of termination and come back to the negotiating table
On Friday 5 January Nautilus members working onboard Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (IOMSPCo) vessels ceased industrial action after the ferry operator withdrew the threat of fire and rehire.
IOMSPCo also agreed to further talks, with the Manx Industrial Relations Service (MIRS) in attendance, which are occurring as this issue of Telegraph goes to press. If it is deemed that no progress is possible then both parties have agreed to move to binding arbitration facilitated by ACAS in the UK and supported by MIRS.
The dispute between Nautilus members and IOMSPCo arose over contract changes relating to live aboard arrangements, which would result in members spending weeks of extra time on the new vessel Manxman instead of with their families.
After no agreement was reached, the company rejected arbitration – as required under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed with Nautilus – and instead threatened officers with fire and rehire if they did not accept the changes. On 22 December, they were issued notices of termination.
Following a successful ballot, members commenced action short of a strike on 27 December 2023, committing not to work overtime or 'work up' to cover senior roles.
'Nautilus does not take lightly the need for industrial action, in particular where lifeline services are involved, but what alternative did members have when they were served notice of dismissal three days before Christmas?' senior national secretary Garry Elliott said.
On 3 January IOMSPCo was forced to cut Manxman's scheduled services by 50% following unexpected crew leave, as members would not provide cover. Within 48 hours management had climbed down and the company withdrew fire and rehire on 6 January.
Even against the backdrop of the employer being willing to dismiss the entire long serving officer workforce, members still did not waver
Throughout this period, Nautilus continued communications with the company whilst pushing for the company's ultimate owner, the Isle of Man government, to step in. Union officials conducted interviews with Manx Radio and there was positive coverage in local and UK national press.
Nautilus was able to speak on behalf of members – to the company, public, press and government – from a position of strength, thanks to the clear mandate they gave the Union.
'Members showed real strength and solidarity. This was reflected in the high participation at numerous consultation exercises and finally at the industrial action ballot, where a large percentage of members voted for both action short of a strike and strike action if required,' Mr Elliot said.
'Members held resolute with the industrial action and work to rule was adhered to completely, with no break of resolve by any ranks and amongst both permanent and some temporary staff. Even against the backdrop of the employer being willing to dismiss the entire long serving officer workforce, they still did not waver.'
Reset and renegotiate
The withdrawal of the termination notices is an important win for members, but Nautilus will not rest – the situation has now returned to the status quo from summer 2023, and a settlement that is acceptable to members must still be negotiated.
'It's disappointing that industrial action had to occur, especially when it could have been avoided by the employer simply adhering to the CBA and Isle of Man legislation surrounding dispute avoidance and resolution. A resolution always resembled a negotiated settlement – via arbitration if required – and that is still the case,' Mr Elliott added.
'Hopefully we can now take steps forward in good faith and can get the relationships back on track.'