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A new decade and a fresh commitment to members

16 December 2019

As we start the new year, we recommit to being an action-focused, modern and dynamic union, driven by a clear organising strategy, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson

As we enter a new decade in which disruption is the name of the game and technology transforms our world, shipping is at the centre of the evolving storm.

The industry is at the heart of our globalised just-in-time economy. Every hour of every day, thousands of vessels are on the oceans and rivers connecting countries and keeping global trade moving. But while shipping's importance remains unchanged, the way it works – and the ways in which its people work – are facing transformation.

Nautilus International has worked long and hard on our four-year Strategic Plan and 2030 Vision adopted at the General Meeting in October 2019. It puts in place a proactive response to ensure that we remain relevant, responsive and financially sustainable for the future.

This year will be critical for the delivery of this vision. We are focused on developing new ways of working, new ways of organising, new ways of campaigning, and new ways of servicing our members that demonstrate our continued relevance.

We will keep our organisation at the cutting edge, responding to globalisation's challenges with, for example, the Nautilus Federation of like-minded ITF affiliated unions providing a worldwide support and assistance network based on cooperation and collaboration.

We look to the future with optimism, but we face a double whammy. The demographics of our membership mean that around one-third of our members will reach retirement age over the next decade. Despite the renewed investment in skills in the UK and NL the numbers coming into the shipping industry are falling short of the numbers leaving. It's very clear that we can't continue as we are. If that sounds stark, it's meant to.

The 2030 Vision is our response – a positive vision for the future based not on fear of the unknown, but a clear track of hope. Because we don't just face risks and challenges, we also face opportunities, and we are determined to seize them.

Our 2030 Vision will strengthen our recruitment efforts, continuing our growth in the superyacht and windfarm sectors, capitalising on the potential in inland waterways and river cruises and seizing the opportunities offered in fishing, through the new ILO Convention 188.

Our 2030 Vision will transform the way we work – we will relaunch Nautilus as an action-focused, modern and dynamic union and professional organisation, driven by a clear organising strategy, that is innovative, creative and, above all, proactive and professional.

The 2030 Vision is our blueprint for the future – a sustainable future that ensures that the scale of the challenges faced by Nautilus is matched by the scale of its ambition. Nautilus is proud to say that Wherever You Are So Are We. That will continue to be but we will also focus greater efforts on supporting you throughout your career journey in a positive and aspirational way.

Happy New Year!

The 2030 Vision is our blueprint for the future ‒ a sustainable future that ensures the scale of the challenges is matched by the scale of our ambition Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson
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Insights 2019

Archives of regular monthly message from Nautilus general secretary, also published in each edition of the Telegraph on the Welcome page.

From the general secretary December 2019

Brexit may be the reason for the UK general election this month, but this is also a chance to secure commitments to our industry, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.

As I write this, the UK is again in full election mode. One would expect that Brexit will continue to dominate the debate in this general election. But it is much more than a re-run of the 2016 referendum.

The debate in the wider trade union movement here is about the need for more and better jobs, about climate change, and the need for workers to get a pay rise. Average wages in the UK have only just recovered to the levels prior to the global financial collapse of 2008/2009.

These are all issues with a strong resonance with our members. Brexit maybe the backdrop and context for this general election but these bread and butter issues are also extremely important. With the latest polling data showing a narrowing of the gap between the two major political parties it is starting to feel as if a hung parliament is the most likely outcome.

Whatever your party-political preferences, I urge all our UK members to ensure you are registered to vote. If you will be away at sea on 12th December, then be sure to register for a proxy vote.

I am often asked about Brexit by colleagues in our Dutch and Swiss branches and by many of our sister unions in Europe and beyond. So, I am not going to make any apologies for the parochial nature of this comment piece.

I know from the many questions I get asked that our members wherever they live remain very interested in what is going on here in the UK. They do struggle, though, to understand why we would want to leave the EU, and they express concern at the prospect that it will diminish our standing on the global stage.

Whatever the outcome of the general election in the UK, whether we leave the EU with a deal or not, whether we have a second referendum on EU membership, I try to remain optimistic about the future for our industry and for maritime and shipping professionals.

Don't get me wrong, there are some real issues of concern, and I am not blind to the risks that these seismic changes may present for our industry.

As an island nation with a proud maritime history, we do though need to elect politicians who appreciate the need for a strong Merchant Navy, who are committed to growing a maritime skills base that can feed into a vibrant maritime cluster. If we can secure such commitments, I am confident that the demand for the services of our members will remain strong. Therefore, I will be writing to all the main political parties setting out the policies that we believe will deliver for our nation and for Nautilus members.

On an even more parochial note, this month I attended my first meeting of the Board of Britannia Maritime Aid. This is an exciting new charity which has been launched with the aim of funding and operating a British-built merchant ship, manned by UK seafarers, which will have the dual purpose of operating as a disaster relief platform and a sea training vessel for cadets, apprentices and trainees. The BMA aims to provide an effective and regular means of directly delivering overseas humanitarian aid and skills training on a year-round basis to communities in need, and – when required – to provide direct, fast and cost-effective emergency response to disaster hit islands and coastal commonwealth countries. I am really pleased to lend our support to this important initiative.

In closing, and as we approach the Christmas holidays my thoughts turn to our members – maritime and shipping professionals – who will be away from their loved ones delivering 90% of everything, including much that makes Christmas so special.

On behalf of the Council of Nautilus International and all our staff I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

From the general secretary November 2019

October 2019 was a special month for Nautilus International, we celebrated our third General Meeting in Rotterdam.

This is the four-yearly event where our full members can come together to hear how the Union has progressed on its strategic plans over the last four years and shape what the Union plans to do in the next.

It was the biggest, boldest and most diverse GM we have had since the new Union was created in 2009 and probably beyond that too. It was great to have such a good turnout and even more pleasing was that we had so many new entrants, female members and young members in attendance (around 20% of the total attendance.).

We also had quite a few members joining us to watch the live stream on the members only Facebook group – an experiment that proved instructive and points to greater use of such methods in the future.

The Council's report to the General Meeting, which seeks to set out details of our work over the last four years dominated the first day's proceedings.

As you can imagine it is a substantial challenge to condense four years' worth of activities into a manageable document and as such the report is very much about key highlights across the industrial, legal, professional, welfare, communications and organising activities of the Union in three countries. I would urge those of you who were not able to make the General Meeting to take a look at this report which you'll find on our website.
In order to make this information as accessible as possible there is also short video available online.

Day two focussed the motions which had been submitted to the meeting by members and from the Council. An interesting a lively debate took place about the human element in the IMO and on the next stage of development for the role of electro-technical officer, which the Union first championed more than ten years ago. Motions on Fair Pay at Sea, Equality and Diversity and Automation were also passed. These become resolutions of the General Meeting and the Council will now monitor the delivery of those resolutions including through our strategic campaigns work over the next four years.

The meeting welcomed speakers from our main trade union centres at TUC and FNV and also from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA) who debated with us the changing landscape for both the sectors in which we operate and wider society.

On day three I was also delighted to join a panel debate with Nautilus honorary member Dr Cleo Doumbia-Henry and Steve Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

In this session we discussed how the world of work is changing, how automation will impact on the shipping industry and how unions need to change to reach out to young workers.

I set out the Union’s new 2030 Vision and how we need for adapt if we are to stay relevant in a rapidly changing maritime industry. The panel answered some challenging questions about what those changes would be, when they would arrive and how to prioritise which ones the Union should tackle first. I think I speak for all those in attendance when I say we could have continued this discussion for several hours!

Nautilus General Meetings are not just about policy and debate, they are also social occasions where old friends and new, come together to catch up. This networking aspect is something our younger members in particular find useful in making contacts which they can take away with them for future mentoring, support and of course employment opportunities.

As there's nothing Maritime and shipping professionals like more than discussing ships, we all spent an enjoyable evening on one of the famous Dutch party boats, sailing around the Port of Rotterdam.

At our finale gala dinner, I had the great honour of recognising two of Nautilus International’s greatest supporters in recent years, former Telegraph editor and director of communications Andrew Linington and retired Trustee John Lang, both of whom we hope will keep their connections with Nautilus for many years to come.

I also made Nautilus awards on behalf of the Council to several lay representatives for their work on behalf of members and to the recipient of the Victoria Drummond Award.

If you were not able to make the General Meeting, then you will find a wealth of information in this edition and about the decisions and discussions that took place.

I also recommend watching the videos we released, highlighting our previous work and what is to come. If you have never been to a Nautilus event before then I also recommend looking out for the pictures and videos that were taken in Rotterdam. Hopefully they will encourage you to sign up next time (look out for the branch conferences and symposiums in 2020).

From the general secretary October 2019

'No deal' Brexit assurances fall flat from the new Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson
By the time you read this the UK will possibly be teetering on the brink of a 'do or die' withdrawal from the European Union as 31 October 2019 approaches.

As I write this the 'one in a million' no deal outcome is looking increasingly likely. I sincerely hope you are reading this thinking I got that catastrophically wrong!

I took the precaution of writing to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to express concern about the potentially adverse impact upon our members and the shipping industry of a no deal Brexit. I requested detailed assurances and a clearer understanding of why he felt a no deal exit would be beneficial to the nation's shipping businesses and the people, including many Nautilus members.

Despite the announcement of additional resources for no deal preparations, the limited timescale in which such work must be carried out leaves an alarmingly short period to put in place the necessary new border requirements, systems, security arrangements, and staffing to ensure frictionless trade. I asked the Secretary of State how the government can be so confident that traffic will continue to flow smoothly?

His response – which we published in full on page 33 of the October 2019 Telegraph – raised more questions than it answered.

Mr Shapps said the government has stepped up preparations to ensure it is 'fully ready' for Brexit. The recently-announced £10m Port Infrastructure Resilience and Connectivity Fund will allow ports across England to deliver short-term upgrades to maintain freight flow from 31 October. With a maximum grant of £1m per port, it is unclear just what the government expects these ports to achieve – a lorry park in a muddy field awaiting customs clearance?

The European Commission has pointed out that around 4,000 seafarers with UK certificates of competency work on other EU member states' vessels. The prospect of leaving the EU without a deal raises renewed worries about the future recognition of those certificates and the employability of British seafarers.

Over the past three years, Nautilus has set out proposals on how the UK could maximise the employment and training of British seafarers and promote the use of UK-flagged shipping. While Maritime 2050 sets out the government's aspirations for the next 20 years, the uncertainty caused by Brexit, and the implications of leaving without a deal, necessitates immediate action to ensure the UK has a distinctive strategy for seafaring and shipping.

The lack of such a strategic approach was evident earlier this year when the government chartered additional ferry capacity to keep trade flowing in the event of a no deal Brexit. The absence of any UK flag or UK crewing requirements, or controls over the pay and conditions of seafarers, created the potential for damage to existing operators who train and employ British seafarers. I hope that the Secretary of State does not repeat these mistakes. We shall soon discover if that warning is heeded, as an announcement on government plans to procure freight capacity in the event of no deal is expected in late September, as the Telegraph goes to press.

I am concerned about the less predictable consequences of Brexit. We have witnessed a disturbing reduction in the UK-flagged fleet because of owners changing registry due to financial uncertainties and EU tonnage tax requirements for a proportion of a qualifying company's fleet to be registered with an EU/EEA flag.

Similarly, the seizure of the UK registered Stena Impero has highlighted the UK's potential isolation from the umbrella of EU maritime security initiatives. We are troubled about the UK's loss of command of the EU Naval Force counter-piracy operations. The laudable aim of developing a multinational task force to protect merchant ships and crews in the Gulf is made much harder by the UK’s changing geo-political status.

British seafarers must remain covered by all elements of EU directives on health, safety and social security, as these are often underpinned by international standards set by the International Maritime Organisation and International Labour Organisation. The government must act immediately to ensure that, post-Brexit, UK ships remain in harmony with EU standards, so they can trade in EU ports, and not face unnecessary detentions for non-compliance with policies, rules and administration of the Paris MoU, which sets the framework for EU port state control.

It is essential that the government does all it can to protect the maritime industry from the adverse impacts of Brexit, and specifically in a no deal scenario, and to clearly set out and then deliver the 'golden opportunities' that it believes EU withdrawal will provide.

From the general secretary September 2019

In anticipation of the autumn publication of the government’s regulatory proposal for minimum wages of seafarers in UK waters, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson laments the failure of social dialogue and collective bargaining

The UK has a new Prime Minister who, apart from pledging a ‘do or die’ Brexit, is busy spending billions – and I am expectant that some of this largesse will find its way to the Department for Transport. The many pledges in Maritime 2050, not least the commitment to establish a Maritime Skills Commission, will need resourcing and funding if we are to succeed.

Whilst we often criticise governments for making too frequent changes to political appointments, it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that Nusrat Ghani has retained her ministerial portfolio for shipping. She lost no time reminding me of the government’s commitment to extend the National Minimum Wage
(NMW) regulations for all seafarers in UK waters. This is potentially a welcome victory for our campaigning on unfair competition in our domestic ferry and offshore services sectors. I hope, though, it does not turn out to be a pyrrhic one.

Our campaigning for fair pay goes back many years, but it became particularly important when the UK Tonnage Tax with its minimum training obligation was introduced in 2000. After decades of underinvestment in training, the country was never going to be able to crew the expected fleet growth with its own nationals, but we wanted to ensure that non-UK seafarers on UK vessels were protected and had decent work whilst our Merchant Navy officers of the future were being trained. We offered to discuss how best to do this with the UK Chamber of Shipping, but we were rebuffed.

Almost a decade later, the UK’s application of EU race equality laws to non-British seafarers brought ‘pay differentiation’ on UK ships into sharp focus. The Labour government launched a review and in its final weeks in office published the so-called Carter Report. This proposed requiring UK flag operators to pay UK wages to all seafarers.

The incoming coalition government consulted the shipping industry on those proposals, and once again, we offered the Chamber of Shipping an opportunity to discuss how best to resolve these issues – but to no avail.

At Nautilus we champion the interests of our members, and ensuring a level playing field through pay fairness is one of our goals. Being mindful of the global nature of the industry and the need for British ships to be competitive, we are of necessity pragmatic. There is no point imposing higher wage standards on UK ships if the competition is not also required to apply them.

We can look to Europe, and our colleagues in the Netherlands in
particular, for examples of how strategies and policies can deliver jobs, training, fairness and decent work. Where social partners agree mutually beneficial outcomes by embracing collective bargaining. Where governments prefer to empower unions to engage with employers rather than reaching for the statute book.

Throughout the last 20 years we have repeatedly set out proposals which reflect domestic and global norms and arrangements, which we believe would secure greater opportunities for the employment and training of British seafarers, whilst ensuring fair pay for everyone.

As we await the detail of the government’s NMW proposals, the shipowners are in real danger of being hoisted by their own petard by having failed to engage with us. When the industry should be using its resources to support collective bargaining, we will all be using them to interpret and enforce legislation which only sets a minimum hourly rate of pay depending on the age of the seafarer.
In this scenario, the lawyers will benefit. Whilst Nusrat Ghani’s commitment to extending the minimum wage to ensure fair pay is welcome and a victory for our campaign work, it is a pity we couldn’t have sorted out the issue through social dialogue. A lesson perhaps for the future?

From the general secretary August 2019

This month I’ve been engaging with colleagues in preparations for the General Meeting in October and setting out a vision for our organising activity across the Union.

IMO Day of the Seafarer fell on the day of our Netherlands branch AGM and industry symposium, and it was a privilege for me to address our members there, alongside representatives of the Dutch maritime and shipping industry, on the issues of seafarer wellness and diversity. I was also invited to the naming ceremony for the Spirit of Discovery, a new UK-flagged boutique cruise ship.

That little bit of good news brings me to the shocking revelation that the UK Ship Register has fallen in size by more than one-third over the past year. Continuing political and financial flux around Brexit is being blamed for the exodus, which has seen the total gross tonnage cut from around 16.5m at the start of the year to just 10.9m last month.

The government’s apparent response to this situation has been to widen the UK flag eligibility criteria and ‘internationalise’ the ship register, opening the doors to owners and operators from the likes of China, the USA, Bahrain, Brazil, UAE and Japan.

The significance of such a shift in shipping policy should not be underestimated, especially if the UKSR fails to ensure that ships registering here have a ‘genuine link’ as required by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and outlined in Articles 91, 94 and 217. While the MCA is adamant that the UKSR has no intention of becoming a flag of convenience, it seems shockingly complacent about its UNCLOS obligations. Rest assured we have already started the process of reminding them!

It seems that UKSR officials will be once again clocking up the air miles as they seek to entice tonnage from other ship registries from around the world. What the UK government should be doing is encouraging inward investment of more than just the ships, developing our own fleet and building a new generation of British shipowners committed to British seafarers. The UKSR could be working to bring back the two-thirds of British-based owners who have stubbornly remained under foreign flags (mostly the Red Ensign Group I’d wager) despite the attractions of the tonnage tax regime. The government should reform the Red Ensign Group, make the tonnage tax more competitive, and formally link access to all UK fiscal incentives to the registration of ships in the country.

I’d like to see the UK government considering why other traditional maritime nations, such as the Netherlands, have managed to grow their fleets. Dutch shipowners display a much greater loyalty to the national flag than their British counterparts – and the modern and diverse Dutch fleet remains a global leader in some key sectors. This should be our model, not that of FOCs like Liberia, Panama or the Marshall Islands.

With the UKSR now having a new director, following the sudden departure of Doug Barrow, my advice to his replacement is to stop thinking of shipowners as customers. The UK is not running a supermarket. We are exercising our sovereign right to operate a ship register in accordance with UNCLOS, and the task of government is regulatory oversight of the ships that fly the Red Ensign. The MCA, on behalf of the government, has the responsibility to do that in accordance with national and international law.

One thing is for sure: without the assurances we have sought on ownership and control of UK registered tonnage, the drift to ‘international’ status is going to end in tears. I’ll be standing by with a big box of tissues.

From the general secretary July 2019

'Offshore' employment contracts caused misery in the 1980s and 1990s, and have no place in the 21st century, says Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson. It's time to bring UK maritime jobs home

Over the past few months I have been taking a keener than usual interest in the legal cases that we have been handling – many relating to employment referred by our organising department.

These cases typically involve members who have been dismissed without notice or have not been paid. A big percentage of them involve work in the large yacht sector for companies who, on paper, are based in such places as the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and the Marshall Islands. These offshore ‘payroll’ companies have no assets and no apparent link back to the UK or the EU, despite many of the vessels being based there. As any student of law will know, piercing the corporate veil is extremely difficult.

Some jurisdictions appear to be making it very difficult and costly to litigate and enforce claims. My recent experience reinforces the need for our members to be better prepared – and of course we need to help them do that. But you might be wondering why ‘offshore’ employment is even allowed in the modern era? My view is that it shouldn’t be – the UK should bring jobs back onshore. 
In the carnage of the 1980s, I, like thousands of British seafarers, was forced into accepting work on ‘offshore contracts’; often on much reduced terms and conditions of employment. The alleged goal was to reduce the costs of employing British seafarers, and one key aspect of that was the ability for employers to avoid National Insurance Contributions (NICs), which, at that time, represented an additional 10% on employment costs for the employer (it is now 14%). But offshore employment also came with risks of reduced employment rights.

Back then, these offshore contracts were typically based in places like Bermuda, Gibraltar or Guernsey – at least closely connected with the UK and having familiar legal systems. The Union sought to ensure that members were protected by insisting on clauses in collective agreements linking employment rights back to the UK.

In the late 1990s, offshore contracts became synonymous with the facility often used in the EU whereby, under the approved EU State Aid Guidelines for Maritime Transport, member states such as the Netherlands can opt to reduce or cut to zero national social security contributions to help make European seafarers more competitive.

The UK, however, refused to adopt this approach, instead tacitly encouraging shipowners to use ‘offshore’ arrangements for the employment of British seafarers. We have even witnessed a company that receives a substantial state subsidy being effectively forced to put its seafarers on offshore contracts to save on employer NICs to be competitive in tendering to run lifeline ferry services. You couldn’t make it up.

Surely it is time to question the very existence of offshore employment? If Dutch seafarers must be employed in the Netherlands on contracts subject to Dutch law, then surely UK seafarers should be protected by UK law? It is time for the government to act – outlawing offshore employment contracts and zero rate NICs for seafarers because the alternative encourages the appalling disregard of seafarers’ rights.

Unscrupulous shipowners who set up offshore ‘payroll’ companies in exotic jurisdictions do so with one purpose in mind: to avoid responsibility and make it difficult for seafarers to gain redress.

And of course, the UK government cannot attack these practices and the jurisdictions that facilitate them when it has been turning a blind eye to exactly such arrangements on its own doorstep.

It is time for change: let’s scrap offshore employment. Bring the jobs onshore and let’s do it now.

From the general secretary June 2019

With a review of the UK Tonnage Tax on the horizon, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson reflects on how valuable the scheme has been to British seafaring.

The latest figures from the UK Department for Transport have just been released, and they show that, while the number of UK seafarers (both officers and ratings) on Tonnage Tax vessels grew slightly in the last 12 months, the trend overall has been a steady decline since the scheme was launched in 2000.

In 2003/4, when the first complete figures were issued by the DfT, there were 6,091 officers employed on Tonnage Tax vessels, 48% of whom were British (2,951 UK officers). However, in 2018/19 a total of 7,836 officers were employed on Tonnage Tax vessels but only 26% came from the UK (2,066 officers), with 33% being EEA/EU and 40% coming from the rest of the world.

The position for British ratings is worse. Over the same period the number of UK ratings has fallen from 28% in '03/'04 to 13% in '18/'19, with three quarters being from outside the European Economic Area. The proportion of UK flagged vessels in the Tonnage Tax has also fallen. At its peak, around 95 companies had joined the Tonnage Tax and the majority of vessels were UK flagged. Today only 71 company groups remain in the scheme, with a total of 713 vessels and only 268 (38%) of these UK registered.

Nautilus has long held the view that the Tonnage Tax scheme did much to reverse the sharp decline in the size of the UK registered fleet and the number of UK cadets in training. It is easy to forget that in the late 1990s, training levels had plummeted to almost nothing and the fleet was in sharp decline. Today, thanks to the Tonnage Tax, we train on average about 750 cadets per year. With the additional support of SMarT and SMarT Plus these levels are set to increase significantly to around 1200 per year.

It is therefore beyond argument that government support has rejuvenated UK cadet training, encouraged inward investment and supported flag growth. But in terms of maritime skills as a whole, at best it prevented a total collapse.
Our Charter for Jobs called for a review of the Tonnage Tax scheme, and I am pleased that the government is now actively considering this and seeking our input. We know the shipowners too are eager for a review, and have been actively consulting and lobbying government for change with Brexit opportunities in mind.

What I want to ensure is that, in return for expanded financial support from the government, defined outcomes serve the national interest – a growing
UK registered fleet, enhanced employment for British seafarers and substantially more training opportunities for UK residents. This will support our maritime cluster and contribute to our economy, security and maritime resilience. Nothing less will do.

I know we can deliver more for the investment the government makes, because in our cross-border Union we have first-hand knowledge of the Dutch tonnage scheme introduced in 1996. According to government and shipowners' figures, out of 28,000 maritime professionals working in the maritime cluster, around 7,200 work directly in shipping – about a third ashore and two thirds at sea, mainly on Dutch-flagged ships.

Cadet numbers have also remained stable in the last ten years at around 500 per annum.

The flag has grown significantly since the Tonnage Tax scheme was introduced and remains resilient in the face of the lingering economic uncertainties triggered by the 2008/09 banking crisis. The costs of training is 100% covered by the government, and job and training guarantees for Dutch nationals are provided in mutual agreement with the shipowners. The working conditions of all seafarers (not only the Dutch) are secured through collective bargaining agreements concluded at national and company level.

Armed with our knowledge of the Dutch experience, we will be arguing that it is in the UK’s interest to train and employ home-grown maritime professionals and provide them with training and job guarantees. We will also be pushing for a flag link between the Tonnage Tax and the UK Ship Registry and for the government to cover 100% of the costs of training a cadet.

Britain is an island nation; it needs a strong merchant fleet and home-grown seafarers. The government's Maritime 2050 commitments offer a promising start, and we have a supportive and energetic shipping minister in Nusrat Ghani. However, as always, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

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From the general secretary May 2019

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson reflects on a month of good news for the Union, with membership numbers increasing and several valuable joint-working initiatives underway

Nautilus International is ten years old in May 2019. So, my thoughts turn to that historic decision that our members supported to form the world’s first truly trans-boundary trade union for maritime professionals.

When we were first working on ways to bring UK and Dutch maritime professionals together we formed the Nautilus Federation as a mechanism to coordinate our work and demonstrate to members the value of that cross-border cooperation. Today that federation remains active in uniting likeminded trade unions in the shipping industry from across the globe. Twenty one unions now collaborate to provide support to their respective members.

In April the Nautilus Federation met to discuss our joint initiatives such as our mutual support of members facing potential criminalisation (known as JASON) and our Fair Treatment campaign which we hope will result in the launch of an app in the near future; and plans for a new survey on STCW to provide feedback on the anticipated review of that Convention which is due to begin in 2020.

Closer to home I also oversaw a meeting of the Council of Nautilus. The April meeting is always an important one for the Union as it is when we sign off the audited accounts and confirm revised budgets for the current financial year.

We also discussed the arrangements for the General Meeting and Rules General Meeting in October where members are invited to take part in setting the Union’s agenda for the next four years. It is a really important, and also very enjoyable, event in the governance of the Union so please do you utmost to attend. I hope to see as many of you there as possible.

The Council also received an update from our Organising department. Garry Elliott, head of organising, reported several organising successes in the windfarm and yacht sectors both new areas for Nautilus which are delivering membership growth. As a result, we ended 2018 with more members than we started it.

I am now looking forward to our next meeting of the Council in June where we will continue our preparations for the General Meeting and also welcome some new Council members who will have been recently elected.

In April I also I attended a meeting of the UK Branch Committee. A lively meeting not least because Brexit inevitably dominated much of the conversation. With the departure from the EU once again delayed, and this time potentially for six months, the effects of uncertainty are being felt across the industry. Companies are moving their ships away from the UK ship register and the issue of the validity of seafarer certificates once the UK leaves the EU still creates concern.

However, there is positive news coming out of the government as progress continues to be made on the Maritime 2050 vision. A substantial section of the strategy is dedicated to “People” and Nautilus will seek to ensure that the commitments made around seafarer training and employment are met.

Finally, I welcomed feedback from our Young Maritime Professionals on their recent trip to Rotterdam and Brussels as part of the European Transport Workers’ Federation Fair Transport campaign. I really enjoyed the video diary made by YMP chair Sam Belfitt as she catalogued the YMP’s exploits travelling by road, sea and rail transport to meet up with hundreds of other transport workers to march against the rise of social dumping in the European transport sector.

Fair Transport is the least we should expect in Europe and as we leave the EU we need to acknowledge that we are not leaving Europe. We will need to re-double our efforts to work closely with our brothers and sisters in Europe in defence of members living, working conditions and their health and safety at work.


From the general secretary April 2019

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson considers the importance of saving for retirement – and explains how the Union is working to ensure members have the best possible pension…

With the financial year drawing to an end at work, my thoughts often turn in April to personal financial planning and pensions. Saving for retirement is too often our lowest priority, but for most of us - unless we are banking on winning the lottery - it should be one of our greatest concerns.

As we are all living longer, we need to think more carefully about retirement planning, and it's never too early to start. Research suggests that 12% to 20% of our earnings need to be saved each year to achieve a decent income in retirement.

At Nautilus we work in many ways to ensure that all our members have access to a decent pension. We participate in industry pension schemes and continuously press employers to provide good quality pensions for members. But that job isn't helped by employers who have no interest in securing a decent retirement for their seafarers, or by governments who seem intent on undermining the pension rights of their citizens.

In the Netherlands, we joined the country-wide FNV Pension Action Day on 18 March, calling for a fair pension for everyone at a time when the Dutch government is seeking to cut pension costs. We believe that in a country like the Netherlands, everyone should be able to stop work at a reasonable time of life and be able to count on a decent income.

One of the key issues in NL is the rapidly increasing state pension age and the financial penalty for 'early' retirement (a particularly relevant issue for seafarers and those working in inland waterways, as these are tough jobs where you can't continue into old age). We are now joining the call for a freeze on the state pension age.

In the UK, the age at which we receive our state pension has also risen. For those born in the 1960s like me, it is now 67, and will rise further for those born more recently. The amount received from the state is not enough for most people to survive on, and pension poverty has been rising as a result. It is crucial, therefore, to save for retirement and do it as soon as you can.

This is not a new problem, and it is why my forefathers in the Union campaigned tirelessly for an industry-wide pension scheme in the UK. In 1938, they succeeded - and the MNOPF defined benefit scheme was born. It served seafarers well for many years but eventually had to be closed due to the escalating costs of past and ongoing liabilities. Our priority had to be to secure the benefits of those in the scheme for their past service and to ensure that existing members’ benefits were not undermined.

To replace the MNOPF, we sought to ensure a cost-effective and viable way forward to protect retirement saving for maritime professionals. A new industry scheme, the Ensign Retirement Plan, was thus created. It remains the only not-for-profit maritime pension scheme - run in partnership by the Union and the industry.

A survey conducted by Ensign last year found a 'significant disconnect' between the importance attached to retirement saving by maritime employers and by their staff. While more than half of employers surveyed said pensions 'were not a very or only moderately important' part of their overall employee benefit package, a similar survey of maritime professionals found that more than four in five regarded pensions as 'very important'.

It is vital that the maritime industry supports retirement saving for its employees. We can see that governments are constantly seeking to erode state pensions, and it becomes ever more important to ensure that our members can secure a decent income in retirement. It will be a stain on all of us if we fail.

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From the general secretary March 2019

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson reflects on the dismaying news from Maersk and other major maritime employers leaving the UK…

February’s big story was the announcement that Maersk was ending its relationship with the UK. No more British officer trainees and no jobs for British junior officers upon completion of their training. A very sad reflection on the current state of affairs.

Having been one of the first to join the UK tonnage tax when it was launched in 2000, Maersk had at one point expanded to become the single biggest UK flag operator – and it trained large numbers of British cadets as a result.

Maersk was also a significant operator and employer in the Netherlands, having acquired P&O Nedlloyd in 2005. However, it soon started offering inducements for Dutch seafarers to leave. Shore-based operations were reduced to almost nothing, and Dutch officers were offered promotion only upon signing Danish contracts. It is only a matter of time before Maersk exits the Netherlands altogether.

The significance of this latest Maersk announcement cannot be underestimated. Back in 2008, Maersk approached Nautilus about the need for more government support to address the rising costs of training cadets and the gap between UK employment costs and manning models from southeast Asia. The company was very clear that without government intervention it would be forced to look elsewhere.

Galvanised by these stark warnings from the world’s biggest shipowner, we agreed to work together to develop a joint industry offer to the UK government. We hoped this would lead to more training and job security for our members in return for more government support for the shipping industry. This led to a positive meeting with the then prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Unfortunately, a general election and change of government followed in early 2010. But we didn’t give up, and together as an industry we worked hard to make the economic case for more support for jobs and training. Ten years on from that initial Maersk contact we finally secured an extra £15m for SMarT. However, in the meantime, a decade of perceived government inaction doubtless impacted on Maersk’s future strategy, and its allegiances now lie elsewhere – notably in Denmark and India.

From the general secretary February 2019

At a difficult time in UK politics, Nautilus general secretary MARK DICKINSON takes stock of the Brexit situation and considers how it could affect seafarers…

As the February 2019 Telegraph went to press, the British government had just recorded the biggest ever defeat on the floor of the House of Commons, with 432 (out of 650) MPs voting down the proposed withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU.

However, the government then survived a vote of no confidence, meaning that an early general election to change the status quo is unlikely.

This means, with the UK's departure from the European Union now less than two months away, the way forward is less clear than ever before. Will we leave the EU with a deal? What will the deal be? Will we leave with no deal? Or will we even leave the EU at all?

At the time of the original in/out referendum, the Council of Nautilus debated the issue of Brexit and decided that, in the interests of maritime professionals, remaining was the best option. Since then we have watched as the process of leaving the EU has unfolded and the unimaginably complex unravelling of a 45-year relationship has been exposed.

Despite the talk of opportunities for shipping following Brexit, including the possibility of creating more jobs for British workers, the government has consistently taken decisions which are hard for our community to fathom.

In May last year, the government granted a fresh waiver to windfarm vessel operators, enabling them to continue recruiting from outside the EU. It must be said, though, that the government does at least believe that the National Minimum Wage (NMW) applies to these workers and has pledged to clarify in law that all seafarers on any ship working in UK waters will be protected by the NMW.

In terms of future immigration policy, it remains to be seen if the post-Brexit proposal only to recruit EU workers into jobs paying over £30,000 a year will benefit British MN officers, who typically will be earning above that level.

It also came as something of a shock last month when the government was able to find £103million for three companies (one French, one Danish and one UK start-up) to provide additional capacity on several short-sea routes after Brexit. That's hard to take when we campaigned for a decade just to get £15m more for the training of British seafarers under the SMarT scheme. And these generous contracts came – as sadly is usual in the UK – with no requirement to provide jobs for British seafarers.

At the time of the referendum, the British union federation TUC published a report detailing those UK workers' rights underpinned by EU rules which would be under threat due to Brexit. The TUC set a 'Brexit test' – three objectives which must be included in any final deal in order for it to be supported by the trade union movement. These were:

  • workers' rights must be protected and enforceable now and into the future
  • there must be tariff-free, barrier free, frictionless trade in goods and services with the rest of Europe
  • there must be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland or more restrictions between Gibraltar and Spain

Following the publication of the government's proposed withdrawal agreement, the TUC stated the proposals did not meet these tests and called for the deal to be rejected. The TUC has also called for an extension to Article 50 to allow negotiations to continue and remove the chances of a 'no deal' Brexit.

The situation will hopefully become clearer in the weeks ahead and it does look increasingly likely that there will be a second referendum on a Brexit deal, although what that deal will look like, or what the question on the ballot will be, remain areas of lively debate. The Council of Nautilus will need to consider these issues in due course.

Whatever the outcome, Nautilus will continue to call on all those involved to agree an outcome which protects the interests of our maritime professionals.

From the general secretary January 2019

With the Nautilus General Meeting on the horizon in 2019, Nautilus general secretary MARK DICKINSON reflects on what can be achieved through national and international cooperation…

As the year 2018 came to a close, my attention was focused on some big ticket issues.

Firstly, representing the UK, I attended a meeting of the Executive Committee of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF). This body meets twice a year, usually in Brussels, to oversee the work of the federation on behalf of transport workers in Europe (and not just the EU). Brexit featured on the agenda, and it was very touching when the ETF president poignantly pointed out that Britain was leaving the EU and not the ETF!

Many transport sectors – not just maritime – are facing a future of huge change, with issues like automation, digitalisation, and social and environmental pressures all impacting on traditional union organising. As the ETF prepares for those challenges and seizes those opportunities, it has agreed to hold an extraordinary conference in March 2019 which will launch a new strategy called Moving Europe Forward – a focus on policy for the longer-term future of transport workers in Europe. A future in which we are all better connected across sectors, particularly when campaigning and building union power to secure better outcomes for our members.

The ETF conference will coincide with the culmination of the ETF Fair Transport campaign, which will culminate in a rally in Brussels on 27 March 2019. For Nautilus this campaign has enabled us to gain a wider profile for our work in, for example, Switzerland to highlight the exploitation of hotel and catering staff working in the river cruise sector; in the UK to highlight social dumping in the ferry industry, particularly in the Irish Sea; and in the Netherlands the plight of members at Borr/Paragon, who were being made redundant without a decent social package.

Our campaigning was highlighted in the Nautilus motion at the 150th TUC Congress in September when we secured unanimous support for the Fair Shipping Campaign as part of the wider ETF Fair Transport initiative.

Another big policy initiative I’ve been involved in over the last few weeks is the Unions 21 Commission on Collective Voice. The commission, led by Baroness Prosser, is taking evidence on the role of collective bargaining and how it can be used to secure better outcomes for employees in the changing world of work.

As the Council of Nautilus is also debating the challenges and opportunities we face as a Union, this commission is very timely. We have heard from a Swedish white collar union with similar industry and member demographics (and with similar membership density) on how they have identified the need to change from being ‘helpers in distress’ to ‘improvers’. This reflects the changing needs of young workers – and has, I believe, important implications for Nautilus as we seek to remain relevant to the young maritime professionals of the future and help them in their careers.

Finally, 2019 is a General Meeting year. The theme – reflecting the nature of the world today – is Global Industry, Global Workforce, Global Union. Seems very appropriate as we turn and face the brave new world outside the EU. The meeting will be held in Rotterdam and will give members the opportunity to debate and approve the Union’s strategic priorities for the next four years. More details will be available soon, and I hope to see as many of you there as possible.

In the meantime, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, whether you were at home or at work, and wish you a Happy New Year!


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