Monday, October 26, 2020

Ongoing Freight and Passenger Ferry Row Takes Another Turn

Senior Crew Granted Union Recognition by Arbitration Committee
Shipping News Feature

UK – CHANNEL ISLES – The relations between ferry group Condor which operates services between the mainland UK, and the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and France, and maritime unions has not been a happy one of late.

The payment of crew is at the root of the problems with the unions demanding minimum UK wage standards and the company allegedly paying far below this. Condor, which was bought by a consortium in March which included Brittany Ferries, has consistently refused to recognise union membership. Since the change of ownership the company has apparently accepted government financial help whilst laying off numerous staff.

Last November the RMT union claimed Ukrainian seafarers working on the Condor fleet for 2-month periods were being paid below the National Minimum Wage for a 12-hour working day, living on the ship 7-days a week and with no frills such as pension rights. Such complaints go back well over five years but now there has apparently been something of a breakthrough.

The actions of the company during the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic were slated by the union for maritime professionals, Nautilus International, which said the company snubbed a voluntary recognition agreement with the Union following employee anger over hefty cuts to wages and planned job cuts. It refused to enter discussions with Nautilus and rejected representation for maritime professionals being placed at risk of redundancy.

The Union made representations to the UK Government, and the governments of Jersey and Guernsey in seeking additional support for members, some of whom were paying UK tax, but received no response. The union ramped up the campaign as Nautilus strategic organiser Martyn Gray explains:

“In order to escalate the matter and to enforce the rights of our maritime professionals, a decision was made to commence application of Schedule A1 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, with the first formal stage of this being sent to the employer on International Workers Day, 1 May 2020.”

Nautilus applied to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) in June after making little progress in seeking a voluntary recognition agreement with Condor Marine Crewing Services. Statutory recognition was granted in September, pending an application for Judicial Review, and, as Nautilus expected, Condor's challenge to the CAC's decision granting Union recognition, failed. Nautilus said 'the Court did not even agree to hear it'.

Statutory recognition commits both parties to negotiate in good faith meaning Nautilus members working on Condor Ferries can now benefit from collective bargaining which caused Martyn Gray to comment that the union was now ‘looking forward to building industrial relations at Condor’.

There will be many interested observers as the situation of the company develops over the coming weeks. The RMT, which has pursued Condor relentlessly over this matter for years, will doubtless be looking at the fine print of the recently ratified National Minimum Wage (Offshore Employment) (Amendment) Order 2020 which mandates National Minimum Wage rates for anyone serving on vessels operating on domestic routes.

Whilst Condor Ferries call at St Malo the bulk of their services are between Poole and the islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Doubtless the company will argue that, as British Crown dependencies, the Channel Islands are not a domestic route, whilst the maritime unions, and their members, will take a different view.