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Supporting members through troubled times

14 November 2023

There are many elements to a Nautilus International General Meeting, but at its heart, the four-yearly conference is the place where the Council presents the achievements of the Union to members for a vote of approval. Sarah Robinson explains how this worked at the October 2023 General Meeting

When, at the 2019 Nautilus General Meeting, members set the agenda for the coming four years, no one could have known what momentous events were in store for the Union, the shipping industry and the world.

Things seemed relatively straightforward when a vote of members charged the Nautilus Council and secretariat with developing and implementing a Strategic Plan and 2030 Vision. But as it turned out, this work had to be carried out in the context of a global pandemic, a war in Europe and a related cost-of-living crisis.

Extracted from the Council's report to the 2023 General Meeting, below, is an overview of the Union's work over the past four years.

The Covid-19 pandemic

The first lockdowns and travel restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic started in early 2020, and it soon became apparent that Nautilus members needed help with an unprecedented situation: the crew change crisis. Members were stuck onboard their ships or languishing at home unable to join vessels because of national and international travel restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the disease.

The solution was to have seafarers declared 'key workers' – people, like medical staff, who were exempt from the travel restrictions because of the essential nature of their work. Nautilus successfully campaigned for the official key worker designation at national and international level, although getting the message out to shipowners, ports and border control officials around the world proved to be a bigger challenge.

As you will see when reading the reports from our secretariat, we also supported Union members and Nautilus Welfare Fund beneficiaries through the pandemic in many other ways. These included fighting for better deals around furlough and redundancy, setting up vaccination sessions in ports, helping cadet members gain their sea time and creating a widely-used Covid information service for seafarers on our website.

The Russia-Ukraine war

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it was unclear what the full ramifications would be for seafarers. It was, however, obvious that an official high-risk zone should be designated in the northern Black Sea, and Nautilus worked with maritime partners in the UK and Netherlands to achieve this. Such declarations mean that seafarers covered by the agreement have rights such as being able to refuse to enter the high-risk areas without losing their jobs.

As the war became increasingly bitter and protracted, other issues began to arise for our members – particularly in the yacht sector. Western governments, including the UK and the Netherlands, imposed sanctions on wealthy Russians associated with the Putin regime, and this often meant freezing the bank accounts used to pay crew working on superyachts. Nautilus has been highly successful at winning back unpaid wages for members on these vessels, building on decades of experience supporting seafarers abandoned by shipowners.

Inflation rates always inform our industrial negotiations, but these have been a particularly important consideration in recent years

The cost-of-living crisis

A range of different global and national factors have contributed to the rapidly-rising prices of food and energy that we have all experienced in recent years. The war-related international boycott of Russian oil and gas and the challenge of getting crops out of major food-producer Ukraine have been contributing factors, but high inflation and high interest rates in the UK have also been linked to the disastrous 'mini-budget' imposed by short-lived prime minister Liz Truss in 2022.

As a trade union, the job of Nautilus in addressing a cost-of-living crisis by negotiating the best possible pay and conditions for our members. Inflation rates always inform our industrial negotiations, but these have been a particularly important consideration in recent years, and the fight goes on.

Working for you

It's a legal requirement for Nautilus to produce a General Meeting (GM) Report every four years, but there's some flexibility about how we present this to members, so we're always on the lookout for ideas to make the information as interesting and accessible as possible.

For the October 2023 General Meeting in Liverpool, we produced a set of short videos (watch below) where senior leaders at Nautilus introduced the work of their departmental clusters. At the conference, we played the videos to members at intervals throughout the agenda and followed them up with an opportunity to ask questions of a panel of colleagues working in the same field.

It proved to be a good way of getting important information across in 'bite-sized chunks', but we didn't stint on the detail, either. We also produced a longer written GM report for members to read in their own time.

Video credit: CPL/Nautilus International

When all the video presentations had been made and the GM report had been read, members voted unanimously to accept the report. Voting was all done online this year, whether the votes were cast by members in the conference hall or those registered to follow the conference on the livestream.

To read more about each Nautilus departmental cluster, download a copy of the full GM report and turn to the Standout achievements section. The electronic PDF document also has live links, which lets you watch the videos played at the conference.

Other conference business

In other legally-required conference business, members voted to approve the Union's accounts from 2019-2022 (Member log-in only), and to appoint official auditors, assurers and scrutineers. Members also approved the Nautilus International Strategic Plan for 2023-2027. And, of course, there were votes on policy-making motions.

After the main General Meeting, a separate Rules General Meeting was held in which members voted to accept some proposed amendments to the Union's Rules and Regulations. The updated versions of these documents are now available on the Nautilus website.

The next four years

It has been an impressive feat for Nautilus to achieve the objectives of the Strategic Plan and 2030 Vision in the exceptional circumstances of the last few years, and we urge members to read on to see how this was done in all our organisational clusters.

The time came for members to set the agenda for the coming four years at the 2023 General Meeting, where we focussed on a global issue which has been all too predictable for many years: the climate crisis.

Our members are currently at risk of being left behind by the shipping industry's rush to develop and adopt cleaner fuels and increase its use of automation. The industry needs to implement new safety standards and pay for seafarers to update their skills – a process we call the Just Transition. Let's hope we see as much progress on this at the 2027 Nautilus International General Meeting as we have for our previous four years' objectives.


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