THE battle to save Steam Packet jobs may be won – but the threat remains.
That’s the view of union bosses who addressed a public meeting to continue their campaign to defend jobs and protect conditions of employment in the wake of Mezeron’s short-lived attempt at ferry freight competition.
The meeting at the Empress Hotel on Central Promenade, Douglas, was organised by the shipping unions RMT and Nautilus.
Around 40 people attended the event which was addressed by RMT’s militant general secretary Bob Crow and Isle of Man TUC president Angela Moffatt.
Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson and RMT national secretary Steve Todd also attended.
Unions were jubilant when Mezeron announced in February it was abandoning its daily cargo containers service to Liverpool, with parent company Dohle saying it hadn’t achieved the growth needed to continue to operate profitably.
The Steam Packet lost 15 per cent of its freight business when Mezeron launched the service in October, using two chartered Estonian-registered vessels, the Kalana and the Kurkse. Unions maintained it was unfair competition, claiming the Kalana and Kurkse were crewed by low paid Estonian seafarers.
Mr Crow told the meeting that despite the ending of ferry freight competition, it was important to keep the pressure on. He called on legislative protection for the pay, pensions and conditions for all Manx workers, not just Steam Packet staff – similar to the TUPE rules that apply in the UK.
‘These safeguards should apply to all workers on the Isle of Man, many of whom are facing the threat of privatisation,’ he said.
Chris Bowen, a chief officer on the Ben-my-Chree and liaison officer for the Nautilus union, said: ‘Mezeron may have gone away for now but they could try again in the future. This episode has shown any operator can come in.
‘I think the union campaign had a big influence on making the making the Manx public aware of what was going on.’
TUPE, first passed in 1981 by the Thatcher government in the UK, is an acronym for the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.
Its purpose is to protect employees if the business in which they are employed changes hands, ensuring terms and conditions of staff are transferred from the old employer to the new employer
Mr Bowen said many people would be surprised that Manx workers didn’t enjoy the same level of protection as those in the UK.
He said: ‘It’s not just seafarers, it’s everybody who is employed in the Isle of Man. The campaign is starting now to try to apply pressure on our MHKs to put some sort of legislation in place to bring us up to the same level of protection as the UK and Europe.’
Mezeron has not ruled out making another attempt to launch ferry freight competition in the future.
But it is understood that the Steam Packet is asking freight customers to sign up for three years to be able to benefit from reduced rates. Some other rates have gone up, however.
Mr Crow said: ‘This week’s meeting was a massive success, packed out and showing in the clearest terms that the people of the Isle of Man recognise that there is a continuing threat to both the Steam Packet and island jobs in general.
‘It was the trade union campaign, backed by the public, that saw of Mezeron pull their mainland freight routes but they haven’t gone away and nor have the other predators who would exploit cheap labour to try to undermine standards of pay and conditions among the island’s work force. Our fight to protect the Steam Packet goes on.
‘We are also fighting on a broader front for the same protection for jobs, conditions and pensions of workers threatened with privatisation on the Isle of Man as our members in the UK are entitled to. That fight is drawing huge public support as this meeting has proved.’