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Cruise ship company Carnival UK, owner of P&O Cruises and Cunard, is alleged to be planning to fire more than 900 UK staff if they do not accept new terms and conditions for their jobs. The British/American cruise ship giant, notified authorities of the “fire and rehire” plan one day after beginning talks with union members.

The company said it was “categorically not making any redundancies” but the Nautilus union alleged the firm had “no real intention to engage” in meaningful negotiations.Nautilus, which represents hundreds of those potentially affected, said Carnival UK has notified authorities in the UK and Bermuda of its intention to change employment terms and conditions for 919 crew across 10 vessels, including British flagship the luxury ocean liner Queen Mary 2, the Queen Elizabeth and ships used by P&O Cruises

Nautilus referred to Form HR1, a document outlining a company’s redundancy plans that is submitted to the UK government’s Insolvency Service. “Negotiations with the union opened on November 14 but the union was only notified of the HR1 on the evening of November 22,” Nautilus said.

Carnival’s employment firm, Fleet Maritime Services, said on the form: “No redundancies are proposed. Consultations are related to changes in terms and conditions relating to working days and working arrangements. “Dismissal and re-engagement may be considered if agreement cannot be reached on new terms.” Carnival UK added: “This is an annual pay review process with our maritime officers onboard our ships which will ensure alignment. This will empower our staff, deliver the right teams across our fleet and attract and retain talent to work on our ships.”

The Nautilus union said the cruise company effectively “wants to enforce a cut in 20% of their working days”, which amounts to a drop from 243 days worked per year, to 200 days, leading to a drop in income.It said changes were being enforced and were “not negotiable”, leaving members angered, especially as it seemed that the company were removing flexibility in terms of when the work could be done.

Nautilus has urged Carnival to withdraw the threat of “fire and rehire”, and engage in meaningful negotiations.
The row carries echoes of P&O Ferries’ decision in March 2022 to sack 800 UK workers without consultation and employ foreign agency staff on much lower pay rates. Maritime law and the laws of countries where ships are registered in some circumstances override UK national employment law, allowing firms to pay less than the national minimum wage even if operating from UK ports. P&O Ferries is owned by DP World, based in Dubai, and is not related to P&O Cruises.

Earlier this month the UN workers’ rights watchdog urged the UK government to bolster protections to avoid a further P&O Ferries-type scandal.Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, referring to last year’s events and the threat to Carnival workers, said history was “repeating itself”.She said: “The lives of hundreds more seafarers are once again being upended by bad bosses who know they can get away with it. “Ministers have sat on their hands and ignored warning after warning that this would happen again unless they stepped in to change the law. The blame lies with them.”

Nautilus’s senior national organiser Garry Elliot called on the government to learn lessons from last year’s P&O Ferries scandal “and outlaw the coercive practice of fire and rehire”.  He added: “Employers cannot be allowed to treat their employees with contempt and force through fundamental changes to terms and conditions by playing with their employees’ livelihoods.”

Legal comment
Tim Tyndall, employment partner at Keystone Law, underlined that Carnival’s actions should not be confused with those of DP World/P&O Ferries in 2022. He said: “In this case, it is what has been said in the required HR1 notification form that is the catalyst of disagreement. It is common for this form to be filed in parallel with and before the end of consultation. However, as can be seen, such anticipatory action can undermine goodwill and confidence, and in particular where, reportedly, there are mixed messages being given by the employer.
Tyndall added that despite the promises of new legislation in the wake of the P&O Ferries furore, very little had changed. He said: “What this does highlight is the lack of any progress in legislative change since the last incident. Government consultation on a draft Statutory Code on ‘Hiring and Firing’ ended in April 2023 and there is no sign of anything emerging from that, notwithstanding the cross-party political indignation demanding law change and government promises to do so.”

Source : personneltoday/Adam McCulloch