We organise

Achieving recognition agreements is an important part of union organising

Nautilus International is both a trade union and a professional organisation, meaning that we can offer members support and protection in their current jobs, and for the lifetime of their careers.

On this page we focus on the trade union aspects of the organisation, but you can find out more about our professional services in the We train and We protect sections.

How we organise

In the trade union movement, ‘organising’ has a specific meaning. It’s about bringing people together in the workplace to negotiate and campaign as a group for better terms and conditions.

Encouraging employees to join a union (recruitment) is the basic tenet of trade union organising – there is strength in numbers. Organising also involves working with members to ensure they have the leadership, support, training and resources they need to achieve their collective goals. There’s more about all these activities below.

Jump down to: Union recognition and collective bargaining | Works councils | Lay representatives


Many Nautilus members join because colleagues have recommended the Union and encouraged them to join. On other occasions, members are recruited by Nautilus lay representatives. Research has shown time and again that most people join a union because another member in their workplace has spoken to them directly about the benefits of membership.

In addition, all Nautilus personnel who have front-line contact with maritime professionals are charged with recruiting new members whenever the opportunity arises. Our industrial organisers encourage employees to join the Union when they visit ships, maritime offices, nautical colleges etc, and our dedicated recruitment team run recruitment drives in certain sectors, colleges and at maritime events. There’s more about the role of our industrial organisers and recruitment team on the Secretariat page

If you are thinking about becoming a Nautilus member, you can join now via this website. If you are already a member, don’t forget to spread the word! Application forms and recruitment materials can be downloaded from our publications section.

Union recognition and collective bargaining

An important feature of the organising process is to achieve ‘recognition’ for Nautilus wherever possible. This means that employees’ terms and conditions will be governed by a recognition or collective bargaining agreement between the company and the Union, and that the company has agreed to engage in collective bargaining with the Union.

The drive to achieve recognition usually comes where there is a group of Nautilus members all working in the same 'bargaining unit' at a company (which might mean that they are on the same vessel, for example, or in the same department). The members will ask the Union to help them set up meetings with their management and work out a recognition/collective bargaining agreement. Usually, employers are happy to cooperate, and the agreement is drawn up on a voluntary basis. Nautilus prides itself on working with employers on a basis of mutual respect, and many companies with a voluntary agreement take the process of cooperation to the next level, adopting a partnership approach.

However, sometimes recognition has to be achieved through a statutory process. In the UK a company is obliged to recognise a union if more than 40% of employees in a particular bargaining unit are members of this union, and the process of reaching a statutory agreement is often overseen by the Central Arbitration Service.

A statutory recognition agreement will cover the basics of pay, working hours and holiday leave, while a voluntary recognition agreement also allows members to negotiate additional terms for their contracts, including study leave, training support and maternity/paternity leave. Both types of recognition agreement include provision for collective bargaining to take place at regular intervals, in order to review the pay rates and conditions in the agreement.

There’s more about the collective bargaining process on the We negotiate page.

Works councils

In the Netherlands, many Nautilus members are involved in their company’s works council, which is a body of employees working for the good of the enterprise and its personnel. Under Dutch law, it is compulsory for a works council to be set up by all employers with 50 or more employees, and smaller companies are also required to consult regularly with their staff on an informal basis.

The employer must obtain the works council's consent for any decision concerning the rules on labour-related matters, including working hours and holidays, payment systems and job evaluation schemes, and health and safety at work. The council's consent is not, however, required in cases where the matter concerned is already regulated by a collective agreement.

Unions such as Nautilus provide support for works council activity, and the works council can offer members a useful forum for defending their interests in the workplace.

There’s more on Dutch works councils and their relationship with trade unions on the Eurofound website.

Lay representatives

At Nautilus, the term ‘lay representative’ covers liaison officers (UK), Partnership at Work delegates (UK) and senior executives (NL). These are Nautilus members trained to support and represent their colleagues in the workplace, and the Union strives to have at least one lay representative in every company that has a recognition/collective bargaining agreement with the Union. Lay representatives play a vital part in the organising process – recruiting Nautilus members, engaging in collective bargaining with their employers and providing their colleagues with information and advice to help them improve their working lives (by tackling workplace bullying and harassment, for example).

Nautilus supports its lay representatives by running training courses – there’s more about these on the We train page. In addition, each lay rep is supported by an industrial organiser.

Although the vast majority of lay representatives work in companies which have a recognition agreement with Nautilus, members in other companies can also volunteer to become lay representatives on an informal basis – not taking part in collective bargaining, but supporting their colleagues in an advisory capacity. This is especially important in workplaces where members are striving for union recognition. The lay representative will provide a focal point for recruiting members, raising awareness of the Union with management and working with the full-time official to seek a company agreement.

You can find out more about how to become a Nautilus lay representative and download support materials for lay reps in the Members area. Dates of the next lay representative courses (basic and advanced) can be found in the events section.


Join us

Nautilus International's General Meetings are usually held every four years.

If you are a maritime professional, we are the specialist trade union and professional organisation for you.

Why join? Join now!