The Isle of Man Steam Packet has issued an ultimatum to a union that’s threatening industrial action.
After two years of negotiations with the union Nautilus International, no agreement has been reached on terms which would see crew members live on board vessels for up to two weeks and work a watch system.
Members of the RMT union, which represents on-board staff such as cleaners, kitchen staff and shop attendants, have accepted the changes to the terms and conditions.
The Steam Packet has now introduced a ‘30-day consultation period’ to any Nautilus members who refuse to the live-on-board terms.
Media Isle of Man understands the offer will be dropped should an agreement fail to be reached between the two parties, with a three-month notice period before a termination of contract.
A statement from the Steam Packet reads: ‘The company has agreed a generous package of measures in return for changes to working practices with one of the unions [RMT], but has so far been unable to reach agreement with Nautilus.
‘The negotiations seem to have reached an impasse, and as a consequence, the company has written to the union to set out the various options open to its members.’
The ‘options’ referred to in this statement relate to either accepting the live-on-board conditions with ‘generous’ terms or the beginning of the three-month notice period. The statement continues: ‘The company is keen to resolve the matter in an amicable way, as soon as possible, in order to maintain its focus on fully realising the change in its services to customers recently facilitated by the introduction of its new flagship Manxman.
‘The purpose of the changes to working practices is to improve the reliability and resilience of services for the benefit of customers and the travelling public.’
A spokesperson for the Steam Packet said it had always been the plan to have the Manxman’s staff live on board the vessel, as it helps to limit any potential sailing cancellations due to a lack of staff.
The Ben-my-Chree is also set to start operating a live-on-board policy for its members of staff.
In a scathing response, a spokesperson at Nautilus said: ‘The Steam Packet’s statement is dishonest, which is wholly consistent with its approach over the past two years throughout negotiations with our members. The Steam Packet has not entered into negotiations with Nautilus International members in good faith. They have instead sought to impose significant contractual changes on members and threatened them with fire and rehire if they do not accept the company’s forced changes. These are not the actions of a responsible employer seeking to resolve a dispute.
‘The company, over the last two years, has refused to listen to the legitimate concerns of our members about the impact living aboard will have on their family life. The new live-on-board requirements Steam Packet seeks to force upon our members will mean a loss of 83 days per year with their loved ones ashore.
‘Furthermore, the company’s claim to have offered a generous package of measures is at best disingenuous and at worst misleading. The Steam Packet offered our members the equivalent to £6.85 extra per day (based on average salary) for each day they live aboard, decreasing every year.
‘They also offered a loss of 76 days per year with family rather than 83. This is an insult and far from a “generous” package.’
The spokesperson then went on to explain how the union requested an independent arbitration process where both parties would agree to support the outcome, but that this was refused by the Steam Packet.
They continued: ‘Nautilus has consistently made clear to the company that our members are not against live aboard; they are simply asking that these changes are phased in and existing contracts are honoured.
‘We stand ready to consider a genuine offer from Isle of Man Steam Packet Company but threatening our members with fire and rehire is not the basis for good faith negotiations.’
The dispute over the new arrangements has not delayed the Manxman’s introduction to service. It has been operating as a live-aboard vessel since it left the shipyard in South Korea.
A spokesperson from the Steam Packet said: ‘Manxman is fully crewed. We have adequate officers who are happy to work and live on board Manxman to be able to operate her. Crew members live on board the vessel for up to two weeks and have a commensurate time of paid rest off the vessel. While on board they work a watch system as is standard practice in the maritime industry.
‘As you’d expect they receive all rations and accommodation required at the company’s expense. Crew members also receive 29 days annual leave as per usual company policy. Crew members work 168 days per year.
‘It is a requirement of Maritime Labour Convention that crew members are permitted shore leave when the vessel is in port, provided it does not compromise vessel operations.’