An official with the seafarers’ union Nautilus says he’s not persuaded by assurances given by the boss of a rival shipping firm over crew pay rates and conditions.
Nautilus and sister union RMT have pledged to join forces against what they see as a renewed threat to lifeline Isle of Man ferry services.
They claim unfair competition based on low-cost foreign crews and flag of convenience ships undermine services, jobs and working conditions on the Steam Packet.
But Captain Kurt Buchholz, founder of the Ellan Vannin Line which is planning to launch a roll-on, roll-off ferry freight service between Douglas and Heysham in the spring, insists the boat they plan to purchase will sail under the Manx flag.
He has pledged to recruit as many Manx crew as possible, provide a proper career development programme and pay them at a union-agreed rate based on that set by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
Nautilus spokesman Chris Bowen, a chief officer with the Steam Packet, said he was reassured that the rival vessel will sail under the Manx flag.
But he said the union was still concerned that while the Ellan Vannin Line may pay Manx crew Manx rates, it could still take on foreign labour and pay them at the much lower ITF rate.
He said if that happened, then the unions will take action - as they did when Mezeron launched a short-lived rival ferry freight operation in 2010.
Mr Bowen said: ‘If he pays foreign nationals the going Manx rate then we won’t object - but I’m almost 100 per cent certain that won’t happen.’
He pointed out there was a significant difference between ITF and Manx rates - a chief officer in the Isle of Man getting about £15 an hour but a chief officer on an ITF rate would be paid less than £5 per hour.
He said all Steam Packet crew, whether they were Manx, UK or foreign nationals, were paid the Manx rate - and paid Manx tax.
Mr Bowen said under the Athens Convention, any owners of ro-ro vessels operating in European waters have to pay the local rate of pay.
He insisted the unions’ concerns were focused on employment terms and conditions rather than the merits or otherwise of introducing competition on sea routes.
But he added: ‘I do think there’s a real threat to the Steam Packet. This man could do a lot of damage. We can’t compete with ITF rates.’
The Ellan Vannin Line had planned to launch its service in October but it has now delayed the start until the spring so it can secure the purchase of cargo vessel MV Cometa from Norwegian-based Nor Lines.