The New Zealand Merchant Service Guild, the union representing the masters (captains) and deck officers on the Interislander ferries are disappointed that the current claim was not able to be sorted much earlier in the bargaining process. We begun talks with the employer in February and, despite considerable compromise on our behalf, the company have not been prepared to shift their position sufficiently to reach a satisfactory compromise.
Further talks are to take place this Wednesday. The following notes provide the background to this dispute:
• On 25 July 2008, the union gave 14 days notice of industrial action following the breakdown of talks and subsequent mediation in relation to its wage claim.
• The union originally submitted an 11 percent wage claim based on retention, lost relativities and average settlements within the industry.
• The union lodged the wage claim in February, well before the Government announced that it was buying back the rail and ferry assets from Toll New Zealand
• The industrial action affects only the Interislander ferries; the Bluebridge ferries are not affected.
• The action means that one return crossing per ship per day is cancelled and daytime services are not affected.
• The claim seeks to ensure experienced, qualified officers remain at the helm of the Cook Strait ferries.
Background to the Dispute
• The wage claim is based on three key factors:
i. retention, ensuring that the industry in New Zealand is able to retain current staff and recruit high quality officers in future;
ii. lost relativities, restoring officer pay rates on the Interislander ferries to their former relative position in the coastal and port industries; and
iii. industry settlements, ensuring that members receive an increase commensurate with average settlements for officers and maritime pilots.
• There is a worldwide shortage of maritime officers which is set to worsen with the significant increase in the world’s fleet and as new tonnage comes on stream over the next four years [The 2008 annual Drewry’s Manning Report – Drewry Shipping Consultants and Precious Associates (PAL)].
• This report puts the global shortage at around 34,000 officers, and predicts that it could increase to more than 90,000 by 2012. It says that ‘remuneration levels will therefore remain under pressure and further escalation in officer wage costs is an almost certainty,’ and that ‘in order to retain staff, employers will be forced to look at employment patterns, incentives and training as a way of retaining personnel.’
• The international officer shortage is now beginning to impact on the New Zealand maritime industry. It is pushing up international pay rates and is attracting officers away from their national flag vessels.
• NZ Maritime pilots are in huge demand in Australia and elsewhere, and the remuneration and conditions offered are attractive. A maritime pilot requires the same qualification as a master of the Cook Strait ferries.
• Retention strategies, including significant pay increases, have now been agreed in the majority of ports and several shipping companies.
• Against this background, the Interislander members’ wage claim is modest and pragmatic, and attempts to take account of the practical and financial ability of their New Zealand employer to address the problem fully.
• The employer has lost twenty-eight masters and deck officers since the beginning of 2007. Of the union’s wider seagoing membership, 30 percent have now left New Zealand to work in higher paying offshore positions. Unless members receive a significant increase, increasing numbers of experienced and qualified officers will continue to move overseas where their pay and conditions are becoming ever more attractive.
• The masters and officers are the people responsible for the safe passage of the Cook Strait ferries. The Cook Strait is a hostile and unpredictable; it is one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world and a large portion of the crossing involves navigation in close quarters with little margin for error.
• Two of the Interislander ferries cross the strait six times in 24 hours (42 crossings per week). While the other much larger ferry makes two crossings a day, its size creates other stresses including those related to the unsuitability of its berth at both ports.
• Should an accident occur, it is these officers who are ultimately held responsible.
• Masters and officers on the Interislander ferries work 12 hours a day, seven days a week on a week on/week off basis. They must remain on the ship for the full seven days as well as being available in the event of an emergency. This means they are on the job for 168 hours a week and can’t go home to their families or pursue other interests for that week.