in the back

Packet sauce!
Ferry services , Issue 1615
ferry.jpg THE Isle of Man Steam Packet claims to be the world's oldest continuously operating ferry, carrying passengers between Douglas and the British and Irish mainlands since 1830.

But its long-running service was under threat at the start of this year thanks to a dispute between officers and the Steam Packet Company over the firm's requirement for seafarers to live aboard.

Matters came to a head when the employer issued the seafarers with termination notices three days before Christmas. The Steam Packet Company gave the officers two options: lose their jobs after a 12-week notice period; or sign contracts agreeing to live aboard the firm's new flagship Manxman ferry (pictured) rather than return home to rest between shifts.

No more talk
The company insisted that issuing termination notices was "the last thing" it wanted to do, but it could not continue "endless discussions" with the seafarers' union, Nautilus International, which represents most of its officers.

Nautilus said that telling seafarers they'd be sacked three days before Christmas was a "new low for the company" since it refused independent arbitration.

Nautilus senior national secretary Garry Elliot said: "It is shameful that the Manx public will now pay the price for management's stubbornness." The company's hard ball tactics followed Nautilus receiving an overwhelming mandate to take industrial action.

Home front
One seafarer had calculated the new contracts would mean 76 days a year lost at home with friends and family with only a £6 bonus each time they stayed on board overnight.

The officers said they understood the company's desire to limit sailing cancellations, but were not prepared to accept the change to working conditions in its present form. In the face of the threat to fire and rehire, they began action short of a strike on 27 December, meaning they would not work overtime or cover senior roles.

Costly leave
The Steam Packet – or "Steam Racket" as locals call the costly service – continued its twice-daily sailings on the Manxman for a few days, until an officer went on leave and the company had to cancel 50 percent of sailings. With the island's lifeline service apparently at risk, the company decided it could continue discussions with the union after all.

This decision followed talks between Isle of Man chief minister Alfred Cannan and senior executives at the company, which was brought into public ownership by the Isle of Man government in 2018 but operates on an arms-length basis. The firm then withdrew its termination notices and will resume negotiations this week.

Korea move
The live-aboard policy has been under discussion to help provide a more reliable service since the Manxman was ordered from Korea.

The £80m vessel arrived last summer and has since had trouble mooring in high winds at its main UK port, Heysham in Lancashire. Silt in Heysham harbour also prevented the larger vessel from safely mooring, and various safety issues have led to cancellations.

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To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1615 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 28th February 2024
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