Nautilus International's Fair Workplaces Campaign

7 February 2023 by
Memcom, Rachel Appleton

Helen Kelly knew the trade union's campaign to raise public awareness about the summary dismissal of P&O Ferries workers had cut through when she saw the issue discussed on Channel 4's Gogglebox!

The Nautilus team also received a ‘Highly Commended’ trophy at the Memcom Awards in the Best Public Awareness Campaign category. The trophy was awarded in recognition of their ‘Fair Workplaces Campaign’ in support of P&O Ferries employees, after the company summarily laid off its entire UK crew via Zoom on 17 March, 2022. (The trophy win was particularly impressive given that the deadline for awards entries was just a couple of weeks after the dismissals were announced.)

"It was really quite frightening for workers across the spectrum here in the UK, because it exposed just how weak our employment protections are," explains Helen Kelly, Director of Communications, Campaigns and Digital.

The campaign, which involved political lobbying and legal action, aimed at reinstating the workers and preserving skilled, fairly-paid seafaring jobs in the UK.

A media blitz included appearances by Nautilus representatives on BBC News, the Today Programme, Sky News, ITV, and local outlets, as well as statements to print and online media. Digital billboard vans bearing key campaign messages also toured the affected cities.

On the morning of 23 March, just six days after the dismissals were announced, Nautilus had appeared in 2,395 pieces of media coverage with a total audience of 368 million.

Helen knew that the media blitz had been effective when she saw it discussed on Channel 4 TV show Gogglebox. “I was like, ‘Oh my god – the public get it!’”

The campaign secured widespread support, with hundreds of members of the public attending demonstrations in the ports of Dover, Hull and Liverpool, where the operator sails from. In Parliament, an Opposition Day Motion condemning P&O Ferries and demanding government action was passed by 221 votes to none.

For the Nautilus team, the campaign to protect members and their working conditions continues. Two weeks after the mass-sacking, the UK government announced a ‘nine-point plan’ to ‘force P&O Ferries to rethink and ensure this can never happen again.’
Thus far, government efforts have been focused on one aspect of the nine-point plan, namely expansion of the minimum wage. The Seafarer Wages Bill, aimed at ensuring that at least the National Minimum Wage is paid to seafarers working on ferry services regularly entering UK ports, is making its way through Parliament. While that goes some way to fixing some of the problems, Nautilus has raised concerns that it does not go far enough to protect seafarers from fire and rehire, and prevent a similar jobs massacre from happening in the future, explains Helen. Nautilus will continue to push government to ensure the full nine-point plan is enacted.

For Helen and her team, it’s a source of frustration that the government has been singularly focused on this one narrow issue, seemingly to the detriment of other parts of the nine-point plan, despite obvious public support for stronger action to hold the company to account. 

Despite this disappointment, the team are determined to advocate further for members’ rights, for fair pay and working conditions.

Read about Nautilus International's campaign to protect seafarers from criminalisation under the Nationality and Borders Bill - which won them ‘Best Lobbying Campaign’ at the Memcom Awards 2022. 

Memcom, Rachel Appleton 7 February 2023
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