Fair ferries

Stena talks

The Nautilus International Fair ferries campaign was launched in January 2014 to spearhead the fight to protect members’ jobs and conditions in the ferry sector against increasing commercial and political pressures.

What this campaign is about

The European ferry trades are one of the few remaining strongholds of employment for EU seafarers. But the sector has become increasingly exposed to tough competition from low-cost operators using flags of convenience and cheaper foreign crews.

In Scotland, Nautilus has had to repeatedly work to defend members’ jobs and conditions from the threat posed by the tendering process for the public service contracts to run the lifeline routes to the Western and Northern Isles.

Nautilus is determined to protect the employment, training and conditions of seafarers in the European ferry industry and this initiative was developed in response to a motion at the Union’s 2013 UK branch conference which highlighted members’ concerns over the growing threats posed by substandard operators who seek to undermine existing quality ferry firms.

What we want to achieve

The ferries campaign will run for an initial period of 12 months with the aim of:

  • developing, delivering and supporting a campaign for more and better jobs for members in the domestic and European ferry sector
  • supporting the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) Ferry Mapping Project conducted by Cardiff University
  • supporting Nautilus work to counter fatigue in the ferry sector and disseminating relevant information, such as the results of the Project Horizon research
  • seeking to build and support inter-union campaigns within ferry companies including DFDS, P&O Ferries, Stena Line, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Caledonian MacBrayne, and Serco Northlink
  • producing briefing and campaigning material on such relevant issues as the ITF European ferries policy, the National Minimum Wage and work permits
  • general organising, including ship visiting and recruitment activity

A key part of the project will involve expert analysis of the ferry industry in the UK, intra-Europe and in the Irish and North Seas. Building on the ETF study, researchers at Cardiff University are carrying out this work, which will examine such factors as the working conditions and nationalities of seafarers in the sector.  Once the mapping exercise is complete, a report will be produced which will be used to help Nautilus define the areas where its campaigning activities need to be focused and the industrial and political work required to highlight, for example, where government policy is being undermined or laws transgressed, in such areas as minimum wage and work permit requirements. 

What we have achieved so far

Nautilus has helped to raise public and political awareness of a number of very real and potential threats to domestic ferry services. The Union helped to head off the prospect of unfair competition for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and negotiated with Stena Line to secure the withdrawal of controversial plans to cut the terms and conditions of members serving on the company’s Irish Sea services.

We have worked with other unions and the Scottish TUC to defend members’ jobs, pensions and working conditions against the threats posed by tendering for the Scottish lifeline services. We have taken part in the Scottish government review of funding and procurement of ferry services and emphasised the economic and highlighted the economic and social importance of these operations, and the high safety standards achieved under existing arrangements.

Nautilus has helped to prevent the ‘cherry picking’ of key routes and to ensure that the contracts include strong workforce and pension protections. We also lobbied for new European Commission guidelines which will double the limit on the length of public service contracts for lifeline ferry services from six to 12 years and is urging the Scottish government to use the extended timescales when it puts services out to tender in future.

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