Viking River Cruises is a globally and rapidly expanding company with its headquarters in Basel. The company operates 40 river cruise vessels in western Europe, with 18 more due to be launched in March 2015. It employs around 2,000 staff.
The company made the decision to change the way staff were paid, without consultation, on the day that the Swiss central bank scrapped its cap against the Euro. It instead set a fixed exchange rate of 1.20 — the rate for December 2014 — for all future salary payments in Euros.
The switch by Viking River Cruises will add up to a pay cut of more than 13% for staff. The company only confirmed the change by email once January salaries had been paid in Euros.
Viking Cruises claimed the move was justified by the introduction of a minimum wage in Germany, which is also applicable to vessels working in Germany. In a second letter, reacting to the growing dissatisfaction amongst the workforce, the management pointed out that the change-over had nothing to do with the SNB decision as it had already been decided upon in December.
Nautilus says the operator had no need to make an additional conversion as most of its income comes in the form of Pounds or Dollars from British and US tourists.
Nautilus argues the company had clear reasons for situating itself in Switzerland two years ago to benefit from its lower taxes and social security contributions. To now seek to take advantage of the exchange rate — at the detriment of employees’ pay — is deeply unethical and against Swiss employment law.
The Union believes that payment of future salaries in Euros at December 2014’s exchange rate results not only in a pay cut, but transfers the exchange rate risk onto the employees and puts the principle of equal treatment at threat — as the employees living and working in Switzerland will continue to be paid in Francs.
It is also unclear how the management foresees the correct payment of the social security and pension fund payments and there is also the fear of material losses in this area.
Nautilus is urging the company to reconsider and respect the existing Swiss contracts of employment, to withdraw its unlawful plans and to return to constructive labour relations.
The Union also wants to see the reinstatement of all employees sacked or suspended following their rejection of the company’s decision.
Nautilus has written to the company, protesting to the management about this decision and making it clear that a booming enterprise which has announced 11 new ships and 800 new employees for the 2015 season, and most of whose income comes in the form of Pounds or Dollars from British and American tourists, has no need to make such a move.
The majority of the boatmen employed with the company have rejected the plans of the company — many risking their livelihoods to do so.
Nautilus has recommended employees sign the new contracts in the meantime, rather than risk dismissal. The Union believes Viking’s actions are designed to exploit the lack of adequate legal protection against dismissal in Switzerland. Even if the dismissals are found, in court, to be wrongly carried out, for example, reinstatement cannot be enforced by law in Switzerland.
Read the latest updates on the campaign in the news section.
All employees of Viking River Cruises who are concerned about the changes to their terms and conditions are encouraged to join Nautilus International for advice and support in this matter. The more staff we represent, the stronger our call to the company will be. To join, call the Union’s Swiss office or join now online via the Swiss website.
The Union organised a protest at the launch of the new Viking River Cruises vessels on Wednesday 24 March in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Nautilus plans to follow up this action with more ship visits during the cruising season on the Rhine. To find out more contact [email protected].
You can also sign the Stop the Viking Wages Pillage petition, and use the hashtag #StopVikingWagePillage if using social media to help to promote the events.
Please note that this campaign relates to Viking River Cruises, a Basel-based river cruising company, and not Viking Recruitment, the UK maritime recruitment agency.