Cruise giant Carnival UK accused of plan to fire and rehire 900 crew

By Faarea MasudBusiness reporter
AFP Queen Mary 2AFP

A leading cruise ship company is being accused of planning to fire more than 900 staff members if they do not accept new terms and conditions.

Carnival UK, owner of P&O Cruises and Cunard, notified authorities of the "fire-and-rehire" plan one day after beginning talks with union members.

The Nautilus union said it showed the cruise firm had "no real intention to engage" in meaningful negotiations.

Carnival UK said it was "categorically not making any redundancies".

The staff who could be affected include 919 crew working across 10 vessels, including the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary 2.

Last year a separate company, P&O Ferries, became embroiled in a dispute over the sacking of 800 of its workers by its owner DP World. The firm sacked staff without notice, replacing them with foreign agency workers who were paid less than the UK minimum wage.

Later, the firm's boss admitted the sackings were illegal.

Under UK law, employers planning to make 20 or more staff redundant within any 90-day period, must first consult staff and speak to trade union representatives.

In the present case, Nautilus, which represents hundreds of those potentially affected, is accusing Carnival UK of entering into negotiations over next year's pay and conditions without being open about their fall-back position - that they were considering a plan to dismiss the workers if talks failed.

It is not currently illegal to fire and then rehire staff, as long as the correct procedures are followed.

Nautilus said Carnival had notified the authorities that it was considering redundancies, by submitting what is known as a Form HR1, just a day after starting talks with the union over reducing workers' hours and pay.

The union only found out about that notification a week later.

The HR1 includes the statement: "Dismissal and re-engagement may be considered if agreement cannot be reached on new terms."

Nautilus said the move suggested that Carnival "never had any intention of 'meaningful negotiation'".

Carnival UK said: "We are categorically not making any redundancies and we will not dismiss and re-engage staff. In fact we have significantly increased our headcount across our fleet."

It 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 union said the cruise company effectively wanted to "enforce a cut in 20% of their working days", which amounted to a drop from 243 days worked per year, to 200 days, and a drop in income.

It said changes were being enforced and were "not negotiable", leaving members upset, especially as it seemed that the company were "taking away flexibility" in terms of when the work could be done.

Nautilus has written to the company calling for it to withdraw the threat of "fire-and-rehire", and engage in meaningful negotiations.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said history was "repeating itself".

"The lives of hundreds more seafarers are once again being upended by bad bosses who know they can get away with it," she said, adding ministers have ignored "warning after warning" that this would happen again without changes in employment law.

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."

Following the P&O Ferries dispute the government promised to improve the rights of seafarers, through a nine-point plan to improve pay and conditions published last year.

But Paul Nowak, general secretary of the union umbrella body, the TUC, said ministers had failed to stop workers from "being treated like disposable labour".

The government had reneged on a pledge to introduce a bill strengthening workers' rights he said.

The BBC has contacted the government for comment.

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