FERRY operator Stena Line has written to its workers in Fishguard warning of pay freezes and longer working hours.
In a letter by the head of HR Mick Ambrose, obtained by the Western Telegraph, the company outlined its trading position.
Stena Line has not shown a profit in Europe since 2003, and in order to bring it back to profitability it needs to create an improvement in results of approximately £120 million.
This will be achieved through strategic achievement plans, some of which have been addressed during the past year, including the loss of 26 onshore jobs in Fishguard and Holyhead.
The letter said: “These changes have been significant. However, they alone will not be sufficient to meet our targets and we must continue the process and do more.”
One of the outlined resolutions is to change the way the company sources and supplies ferry labour. That would likely mean a move to a non-UK crewing model, with a mix of EU and non EU staff, which would allow the company to pay below the UK national minimum wage. Other measures include large scale redundancies.
Stena Line insists it wishes to resolve the situation in the Irish Sea by retaining local UK and Irish labour. This would mean a major overhaul of pay and conditions, including a pay freeze for 2014.
Additional options for discussion are increasing annual working time for all seafarers from 24 weeks to 26 weeks, introducing new lower graded positions, and new rates of pay for new employees.
The letter states: “Not making changes is not an option. The current structure of terms and conditions is not sustainable.
“The company has worked hard during 2013 to find an alternative to ‘foreign crew’ and, tough as it may be, believes the alternative is workable and achievable.”
A steward who works on Stena Europe at Fishguard, but who did not want to be named, said: “We have found in our experience that the possible resolutions WILL eventually happen.
“For 12 years the company has not left us alone. Every year we go for a pay review hear the word redundancies. It’s like a form of mental torture.
“Morale is low at the moment. If they said to us tomorrow here’s an x amount of money, we’d just take it and go. We’ve had enough.
“We actually care about what we do, we like to give good service, but with the amount of crew we’ve got at the moment we can’t do that.”
“Our ship is the oldest in the fleet at 34-years-old, and the excuse we can’t have a new one is that the company can’t afford one. But I’ve known for more than 10 years that traffic is being directed away from Fishguard and sent to Holyhead. Countless times lorry drivers have come up to me and said ‘you were very busy last week, we couldn’t get on,’ but that’s not the case, we were empty. It’s because they’ve spent an awful lot of money on Holyhead port and it has to show a profit.”
A spokesperson for Stena Line said that they hoped to be able to find the necessary cost reductions by working together with the trade union officials and representatives.
It also said that every employee has the right to vote and take part in industrial action, but warned that would weaken the company’s trading position.