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Carnival’s Cunard and P&O Threaten to “Fire and Rehire” Over 900 Crew

cruise ships at Southampton
A Cunard cruise ship in the foreground and P&O in the background at Southampton (file photo)

Published Nov 23, 2023 7:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

 

Update: Carnival UK denied the reports that it was planning actions and announced it had agreed to work with Nautilus as part of the annual contract review.

The UK’s maritime union is protesting the news that Carnival Corporation & plc’s UK group will potentially “fire and rehire” more than 900 crewmembers working on the cruise ships of Cunard and P&O as part of an ongoing contract renegotiation.  A Carnival UK spokesperson responded to media inquiries in the UK denying that the company was seeking to reduce manning levels saying it is instead part of a regular realignment of its employment agreements. 

Under UK labor law, a company planning large changes that could see 20 percent or more of its employees laid off at a single location is required to file a 30- to 45-day advance notice with the authorities. They are also required to start a consultation process on changes to terms and conditions of employment with the individuals via their union.

Fleet Maritime Services, a Bermuda-based subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, filed the required paperwork known as an HR1 form on November 15 with the Insolvency Service reporting that it was commencing the consultation process. Reports are that the form indicates that the process began the day before, but the powerful UK union Nautilus is reporting that it was only notified of the HR1 filing on November 22.

“Consultations are related to changes in terms and conditions relating to working days and working arrangements,” the company reported wrote on its filing. At issue is the pay and work schedule for 919 crewmembers working on all seven of the P&O Cruises ships and all three of Cunard’s ships. It represents however a fraction of the total crew aboard those 10 cruise ships but would involve such iconic ships as the Queen Mary 2 and P&O’s ships Britannia, Iona, and the new Arvia, all registered in Bermuda.

Carnival’s employment firm, Fleet Maritime Services, reportedly wrote in its filing “No redundancies are proposed,” but it noted that “Dismissal and re-engagement may be considered if agreement cannot be reached on new terms.”

Nautilus International senior national organizer Garry Elliot issued a statement urging Carnival UK to withdraw its threat of “fire and rehire” and engage in meaningful negotiations. 

The company in the media is asserting that it is “an annual pay review process with our maritime officers onboard our ships.” They said employment has been increased recently as the cruise lines added more ships. P&O introduced the massive new cruise ship Arvia (184,700 gross tons) in 2022 which has over 1,800 crew aboard. Cunard is currently building its fourth cruise ship Queen Anne (113,000 gross tons) due to enter service in May 2024.

The news of the consultation beginning for Cunard and P&O Cruises has brought back memories of the March 2022 incident where the unrelated company P&O Ferries (owned by DP World) summarily fired over 800 crewmembers on all the company’s ferries operating from UK ports with no advance warning or union notification. The crew was informed by a pre-recorded video played aboard the ships and told to pack and leave the ships immediately.

“We also call on the UK government to learn the lessons from P&O Ferries and outlaw the coercive practice of fire and rehire,” said Elliot. “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."

According to the reports, Cunard and P&O are not expecting to make any changes before the start of 2024. The news however comes as the cruise lines move into the busy holiday vacation season and as the cruise ships are experiencing increased levels of occupancy and increased long-term bookings. Carnival Corporation has begun to see a rebound in its finances after like all the companies in the industry coming under extreme financial pressures during the pandemic and taking on large amounts of debt. All the cruise companies have been looking for new ways to control and reduce costs to improve the financial performance of their operations.