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Mark Dickinson, general secretary

Mark Dickinson is currently serving his third term as general secretary of maritime trade union Nautilus International and has held the position since the union formed in May 2009, following the merger of Nautilus UK and Nautilus NL.

Mark oversees the Nautilus mission to be an independent, influential, global trade union and professional organisation, committed to delivering high quality, cost effective services to members, and welfare to needy seafarers and their dependants.

Biography

Mark Dickinson has spent over 40 years in the maritime industry, which began when he joined the British Merchant Navy as a Navigating Cadet in 1978 at the age of 16. In 1983, having secured his Officer of the Watch Certificate he moved ashore to study and gained a Bachelor of Science with honours in Maritime Studies from the University of Wales. In 1992, he gained a master's degree with distinction in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics.

Mark joined Nautilus International in 2000 (then known as NUMAST) as an executive officer. He previously worked for the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) in two spells from 1987 to 1991 and 1992 to 2000, from 1995 he was the ITF's assistant general secretary with responsibility for maritime activities.

At the ITF, he was responsible for the mission to locate MV Derbyshire which led to the reopening the formal inquiry into the tragic loss of that vessel. He also oversaw the ITF's Global Mariner campaign as the key part of the ITF's commemoration of the fight against the flag of convenience system.

During his time at both the ITF and Nautilus International, Mark was heavily involved in the development of the Maritime Labour Convention – the seafarers' Bill of Rights, from the initial concept to its adoption in 2006.

Mark is director of the Nautilus Federation which brings together 13 like-minded trade unions and associations dedicated to the mutual support of their members in the global shipping industry.

Mark's other roles include:

  • Elected spokesperson for European Seafarers on the EU Sectorial Social Dialogue Committee on maritime transport
  • ITF board advisor, ETF maritime transport section
  • ITF Seafarers' Section and Fair Practices Committee
  • UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Council member
  • UK TUC executive committee member
  • Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund and Ensign Retirement Plan Trustee Director
  • Seafarers UK Trustee
  • Merchant Navy Welfare Board Trustee
  • Maritime Educational Foundation Trustee

 

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 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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General secretary profile

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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