Letter: 21st Century UKMPA

UKMPA – The Future?

It was with great interest I read John’s latest editorial in the January edition concerning the last ten years of pilotage in the UK and the predications for the future. However, there appears to be one major omission from this prognosis, namely the future of the Association itself. Perhaps the mists did not clear enough, or he was fearful of what he may have seen! I have also noted the various other articles in the last two magazines, the minutes and the reports form Conference. They all appear to highlight a general trend. In short, an apparent total lack of interest by the majority of the membership in relation to most issues and UKMPA affairs and an inferred apparent inability of the current executive to cope with the workload.

It is interesting to note that the only proposal currently on the table to address this issue appears to be a bit of tinkering round the edges by considering a full time ‘administrator’. It is my belief that the problem is now far more acute and perhaps it is time to fully reappraise what this Association wants and what it stands for. Much comment has been made recently of the poor attendance at Conference, lack of interest and the failure to acquire representation on Section Committee. One SC member has been charged with investigating the problem. What is sadly missing is any form of analysis of why this should be this case? I do not believe pilots generally are unaware of the major issues facing us in the UK or are unconcerned about their implications. What I do believe is they feel out of touch with the executive and in many cases feel uncomfortable with the role and affiliated organisations the Association has aligned itself to. As Conference is now deferred until next year perhaps a good place to start might be for members of SC to tour the Regions and Districts and talk to the members en-mass and then consider what has been said and what their aspirations are.

Perhaps in addition to the issue of a full time administrator perhaps we should also be analysing the following in association with this debate.

  1. Should we retain affiliation to any trade union, and if so which one?

I have heard many comments expressing concern over the proposed merger with Amicus. Whilst it may have major benefits for the Union executive, is it going to assist us as pilots? I am also aware that there are many pilots who have always felt [especially in self employed ports] that our affiliation to a union of any form sends out the wrong signal to the ports associations. [See Brian Wilson’s T&TC report on page 2 of the last issue concerning PPE] Others, despite UKMPA membership have also retained membership of NUMAST and advocated a switch to this organisation that is more directly marine related. Finally, both EMPA and IMPA are non aligned organisations and because of their insistence in not becoming involved on a direct basis in any disputes, they appear to command far more respect. This manifests itself in an ability to communicate more freely and open with outside bodies that are less suspicious of their motives. Perhaps the UKMPA should do the same? Were it to be an organisation like IMPA it could represent pilots national aims and objectives but refrain from becoming directly involved in local issues either of a contractual or dispute nature. This would avoid Association funds being spent on dispute etc. and allow them to be concentrated on representation to protect pilots generic interests in this country. Those [either employed or self employed] who wish to have the protection of union membership could apply to one of their own choosing where their entitlements and benefits are clearly defined. It is interesting to note that nowhere in the UKMPA Rules are these benefits and entitlements clarified.

  1. Do we need to retain an office in central London?

Whilst I accept the current facility is provided cost free by the T&G, is it effective? If the UKMPA was a non aligned organisation the T&G subscriptions [or any union element] could be redirected to employment of the desired administrator at a small HQ in a more central and less expensive location.

  1. Does any union really understand the complex issues regarding pilotage?

We have had 4 major occasions regarding pilotage issues where we have sought assistance from the T&G.

    • Graeme Hutchinson on the Clyde
    • The Humber dispute
    • Kristian Pedersen
    • Belfast

Only the latter has resulted in success and this apparently mainly due to the determination of the individuals involved, the assistance of other pilots and Barrie Youde. I am not aware who has met the cost of this assistance.

  1. Why do people not wish to take up the posts on the various national committees?

Instead of constantly bemoaning this issue and berating the membership perhaps someone should be asking why this appears to be the case and what measures can be introduced to redress it.

Whilst I have my own opinions on many of these issues it is not the time or place to express them, but I do believe they should be debated. What is not mentioned in the reports from conference is that in addition to the SC members who stood down, so did some of the deputies, myself amongst them. Perhaps my reasons were shared by some of the others.

What cannot be denied is that over the last few years we have lost individuals who never questioned the sacrifice of their own free time and in this were supported by their colleagues. Past Chairmen Mike Leney, Norman McKinney and Les Cate, Numast President Peter Russell, EMPA president and PNPF Chairman Geoff Topp, John Burn – secretary, IMPA President Geoff Taylor and many SC and T&TC members who sacrificed huge amounts of their own free time in the protection of our profession and other pilots’ interests both nationally and internationally. Finally, it would be totally disingenuous not to mention John, who in addition to his duties at Conference, regularly produces such an excellent magazine that is read and scrutinised around the world for its excellent articles. WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE WITH THE SAME COMMITMENT TO REPLACE THEM AND THE MEMBERS TO ASSIST THEM IN DOING SO?

It has also recently been reported that we are to host the 2012 IMPA conference. Having known Geoff for many years I believe I understand his motives for this suggestion. Those in the know understand that most progress is made not at official meetings but over dinner and social events where barriers can be relaxed; if one needs convincing of this note the article concerning World Maritime Time [‘Pilot’ October 2006] and the guest list. If this event is to be a success if will require a huge commitment from the membership and possibly financial input. Like the Olympics themselves, it has the capacity to be a great success or a total disaster. Our inability at organising our own Conference in recent years should be born in mind. How interesting if we had to rely on a small band of retired pilots to ensure this event is a success.

So where are we now?

Coincidentally, ten years ago as John was assuming editorship of the ‘Pilot’ magazine we also embarked on the review of the 1987 Pilot Act following the SEA EMPRESS disaster. No one knew at that time what the final outcome would be but all pilots concerned tried in good faith to achieve a satisfactory outcome and look to the future. If you think the PMSC and GBP are poor, imagine the outcome without UKMPA pressure. There have also been various references recently from districts expressing concern over the suitability or quality of applicants for pilots’ positions. How interesting to note therefore that during this same period some pilots had a vision. They perceived a situation where at some time in the future the ready supply of suitable UK applicants would dry up and we would have to resort to utilising foreign nationals. To address this they proposed a UK pilotage qualification enabling young applicants to enter at an early age without lengthy sea service backed up by a comprehensive set of occupational standards. The debates were many over what level the qualification should equate to and the level of sea time. Furthermore, there were continuous claims at Conference that it was not necessary as there was a ‘significant pool of suitable persons at sea with the necessary qualification [class 1]’. How empty these assurances now seem! This all ran on to the rocks with the dispute on the Humber. For over two years we remained in the wilderness as the DfT were horrified pilots had taken industrial action; in their view jeopardising the safety of navigation. BPIT was superseded by PSSL with no pilotage involvement. During this time the ports stole our clothes and ran with the idea of a qualification on their own terms. It may now be too late to undue that damage.

A few weeks ago whilst on passage from Avonmouth to Cardiff I was in conversation with yet another SE Wales trainee pilot. [Ex Humber – current] He advised that there were now 11 nationalities serving on the Humber but only 48% had joined the T&G because the foreign nationals were not interested. It is interesting to note that he also advised five had transferred to London. It is the first stopping post. Like a cancer it will spread – pilot job on the Humber, transfer to another UK district, until like the Merchant Navy their will be few UK pilots left. There is one glimmer of hope. One of the greatest benefits of self employed pilot districts is their ability to select their working colleagues. Perhaps a few more will now have the courage to follow Belfast’s example and take control again of their own future. This aside perhaps the next big issue is – will we blacklist pilots from joining the UKMPA in existing districts who have previously been employed on the Humber and accepted into post?

So Gentlemen, like John I too have gazed into the crystal ball. I see a situation where employed ports will provoke more confrontation and endeavour to introduce additional foreign personal on personal contracts. A foundation degree and pilotage qualification will be introduced on others terms, possibly without even any element of sea time. We will gradually lose our influence nationally as Port Associations argue we are no longer representative of all pilots in the UK and are a union motivated and backed Association. Through lack of interest and failure to participate we will lose the respect of our international colleagues. There will be no changes to the 1987 Pilotage Act to our benefit. The PMSC may become mandatory, but only if we keep pushing the arguments. There will be another major disaster possibly AIS or e-navigation assisted. Working hours will continue to cause division in the Association. This appears to be an employed/self employed divide. Some employed pilots are unhappy with their hours and roster systems, the majority of self employed districts do not experience a problem. As other pension options arise, members may abandon the PNPF unless it can offer long term security and the port associations will endeavour to distance themselves from supporting it. Finally, I also see John as editor of the ‘Pilot’ magazine in ten years time, as there is unlikely to be anyone with his ability or prepared to make the same commitment.

I really do hope to be proved wrong. As so few persons attended conference and take up of the web site message board is minimal, perhaps a few more of the rank and file members may wish to become involved in this debate. I personally believe it is time for radical change if we are to be fit for the new challenges ahead and operate effectively as a national body.

Avald Wymark – Bristol 28.3.07

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