Tony McDonough writes…
There can be no growth or success in the maritime sector without its people and that means a commitment to diversity, to skills and to fairness. That was the overall message from the people and skills panel discussion at the Mersey Maritime Exchange.
Mark Dickinson, general secretary of seafarers’ union, Nautilus International, opened the session with a powerful address on how the P&O Ferries scandal earlier this year put the whole Maritime 2050 strategy in jeopardy.
Earlier this year P&O sacked 800 workers and looked to replace them with cheaper hires. It drew immediate condemnation from across the political divide and from within the maritime industry.
In the weeks that followed the Government published a nine-point plan that aims to avoid a repeat. It looks to ensure seafarers are paid the national minimum wage. Port operators are being asked to bar access to ferry operators who pay below the going rate.
While Mr Dickinson welcomed the move on the minimum wage he added asking port operators to enforce the rule was like “asking them to mark their own homework”. Nautilus International has put forward an alternative plan called the Fair Ferries Strategy which he urged the Government to adopt.
And, addressing those in attendance at Liverpool Town Hall, he warned: “P&O has put Maritime 2050 in serious peril by putting young people off a career in maritime. It has turbo-charged a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions of seafarers.
“Our plan will create and protect jobs and it will bring an end to this destructive race to the bottom. An international minimum that becomes a maximum has no place in our industry.”
Following Mr Dickinson was Captain Rachael Smallwood, head of human performance at the Royal Navy. She said that to fulfil its obligation to be “global, mobile and ready to go” at a moment’s notice the Navy has had to put human performance front and centre of its strategy.
Britain’s senior service was now in the midst of a major cultural change, she explained, where the focus had shifted from being “task-based to becoming people-oriented”.
This, she said, had resulted in a transformational effect on the performance and capability among people at all levels of the Royal Navy. She added: “We have created an environment which allows people to thrive. People are now more physically and psychologically resilient.
“Our focus now is on our people and how we help them to be the best that they can. And that is how we get the job done.”
Next up was Gary Jeffreys, area managing director UK & Ireland for shipping giant Maersk. The company’s large container vessels are a regular sight at the Port of Liverpool and it has a major base in the city centre, employing around 300 people.
Maersk, he added, had moved out of its oil-related activities and was now focused on being an end-to-end logistics business. It operates around 700 vessels worldwide and has invested in a fleet of 12 ships that run on ethanol.
He said Maersk intended to create more than 4,000 jobs by 2025 as part of its end-to-end logistics transformation. He added this would also see the construction of some of the first carbon-neutral warehouses in the UK.
“We need to ensure we have a diverse workforce to manage this transformation,” he said. “Maersk is committed to diversity and we need to recruit people from all sections of the community to come to work for us.”
This session also heard from Dr Robyn Pyne, principal lecturer (logistics and maritime management) at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU. She began by talking about the history of the university which started out as the Liverpool Mechanics Institute in 1825.
In 1852 it expanded to launch the nautical college and, since then, LJMU has developed into a world class centre of expertise in maritime skills, offering multiple qualifications needed by the sector.
LJMU is a partner in the Europe-wide SKILLSEA. Its aim is to inspire a new generation of highly-skilled maritime professionals. It includes shipping companies, shipowners’ associations, maritime trade unions and maritime education providers from 16 countries in Europe.
SKILLSEA, said Dr Pyne, was focused on research that would help equip people with the digital skills, green economy skills and transversal (soft) skills that would be essential for anyone working in the rapidly-changing maritime sector.