Covid-19: meeting our industrial objectives

15 January 2021

Defending members' pay, benefits and conditions is a core Union principle and Nautilus continues to fight for fair workplaces throughout the pandemic, as some employers seek to remove hard-won safety nets for workers, writes Deborah McPherson

Nautilus industrial organisers across the Union are fighting rear-guard actions against the reduction and removal of members' benefits and conditions imposed as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, as well as redundancies and pay cuts.

Recent research by Unions 21 on how unions responded to the pandemic showed successful unions continued to grow and function effectively by doing what they have always done: adapt, innovate, adopt to new technology, and defend members interests by organising, improve working conditions, and ultimately protecting lives and livelihoods, through the pandemic.

This is the experience of Nautilus and its organisers globally as they have sought to protect jobs, secure improved workplace safety, stop clawbacks on conditions such as sick pay, and pensions, and ensure fairness in furlough and other payments for members across the branches.

Nautilus has also led the debate about safe working conditions, highlighting the greater risks for physical and mental health faced by frontline workers during the crew change crisis campaign.

Dutch members are fighting plans by the world's largest container shipping company Maersk to force redundancies and pay reductions on 24 Dutch seafarers in one fleet. The Union presented a petition to Maersk objecting to the plans in December. While Maersk signalled it could agree not to make the specific group redundant, it is on the proviso they accept much lower pay and worse social conditions, which the Union says is too great a decline.

While many company benefits are not a legal right, especially in the UK, and can be withdrawn at any time, for members already facing severe financial strains and uncertainty over jobs it is a further erosion of safety nets during an unprecedented global health crisis.

Nautilus International head of organising Garry Elliott said the Union's industrial objectives on protecting members jobs, terms and conditions remained as relevant as ever.

'We work on the principle that good quality employment should be defended and encouraged.'

Executive officer and vice chair of the Netherlands branch Sascha Meijer said its main industrial issues during the coronavirus had been attempts by employers to 'unilaterally take leave days from seafarers, including dredger crew, when they are at home longer than planned because of the crew change obstacles. This is legally an employer's risk and not a worker's risk,' she said.

In the Netherlands, the law and its many collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) protect the self-determination right of workers to their leave, which had brought conflict, but Nautilus supported and still supports members both individually and collectively, Ms Meijer said.

The Dutch branch has also addressed gaps in CBAs about unforeseen covid-related issues, such as claims for extra pay when seafarers are on board longer than contractual obligations, which had led to more hardship. 'We try to negotiate better conditions to compensate these hardships,' Ms Meijer added.

Negotiating success

Nautilus International has a long history in protecting members' pay and conditions and securing good quality employment is central to our industrial objectives.

The global transboundary nature of the Union's organising work is also reflected in the way it negotiates across the branches.

After months of long and difficult negotiations on a social plan in 2020, the Union's Dutch branch secured redeployment agreements to prevent, where possible, displacement and unnecessary forced dismissal at dredging company Royal Van Oord, following a reorganisation at the family-owned firm.

In Switzerland the Union reached a milestone treaty with Swiss River Advice Group to ensure transparency and cooperation and good working conditions for inland waterways crew – an objective it is continuing to monitor along with the impact of Covid-19 on that industry.

In the UK and in the Netherlands Nautilus efforts have resulted in improved severance packages for officers who are being made redundant by Holland America Line (HAL) due to an operational pause and the sale of four vessels. At HAL both paycuts and job losses have been inevitable but Nautilus has negotiated to protect members' interests and positions where possible at all.

The Union's ability to co-operate with other unions internationally, is an important benefit for members - helping bolster negotiations with Carnival Corporation during the pandemic due to forced layups affecting the cruise industry. Nautilus UK and Netherlands branches worked together closely on the negotiations, with positive engagement from maritime unions from Italy, Norway and the Philippines, whose members were also affected by proposed changes to the CBA.

In the Netherlands we are additionally working on a new programme for job mediation and career counselling for our members both in times of redundancies and related to employability and age-related career issues, Ms Meijer said.

Despite these successes, the more recent erosion of seafarers' terms and conditions by some employers highlights the need for vigilance. Members with concerns can contact their industrial organiser and stay active in your Union.

Get involved

  • Respond to consultation requests
    While we work at international, national and company level to negotiate on such key elements as wages, leave, tour lengths, sick pay, safety and onboard facilities, your organisers rely on feedback from members, so be sure and reply to consultation requests
  • Become a lay rep
    The participation of lay reps plays an important part in our organising work – recruiting and supporting fellow members in their own workplace, and the Union's efforts to builds constructive relationships with employers, through Partnership at Work committees and other strategic partnerships
  • Help recruit
    Our drive to achieve company recognition and collective bargaining agreements also relies on members recruiting other members, in order to have effective bargaining units onboard vessels. In the UK, for example, a company is obliged to recognise a union if more than 40% of employees in a bargaining unit are members of this union, so encourage your colleagues to join
We work on the principle that good quality employment should be defended and encouraged Nautilus International head of organising Garry Elliott

Key industrial priorities

Nautilus's industrial objectives set the bar for organisers and lay reps to work towards in company negotiations. The objectives are agreed annually by the Union's Council. The Union will always resist redundancies and seek to protect members jobs and terms and conditions including pensions as a contractual right.

2021 industrial key priorities

Nautilus's key priority is job security, and the Union has developed strategies to resist and minimise redundancies and to ensure proper consultation takes place. We also place a high emphasis on robustly defending terms and conditions.

Nautilus commits to:
• Ensure negotiators take into account the need for employers to provide good quality jobs and pensions for members as a contractual right
• This means those working to pension age, or earlier if they are unable to continue to work, can retire in good shape financially
• Provide and protect members' pensions. For companies who do not provide in house pension or retirement schemes, the Union encourages those to contribute where appropriate to industry wide schemes such as, for the UK, the Ensign Retirement Plan; In The Netherlands and Switzerland pensions are provided on a 'three-pillar' principle – a combination of state benefits, occupational pensions and self provision. In the Dutch maritime sector most members are protected by the sectoral Merchant Navy pension fund, the Inland Waterways Pension Fund and the Dredging Pension Fund. Nautilus is in the governance structures of all three funds.
• Develop a strategy to respond to the material losses suffered by members and return member's terms and conditions to the levels that existed before any cuts were implemented
• Ensure that death in service provisions contained in members terms and conditions either (a) reflect national best practice; (b) are at least three times annual salary, or; (c) where relevant, reflect the international minimum standards set by the ITF or IBF
• The Union is also committed to paying particular attention to the needs and aspirations of young members, trainees/cadets and minority groups and to strive for best practice in equal opportunities – such as including implementing the maternity and paternity best practice produced by Nautilus, and to ensure that this is provided within members' contracts of employment

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