Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Another RoRo Ferry Crewing Row as Flag of Convenience Controversy Spreads and Union Protests

Is Brexit Being Used as an Excuse to Cut Costs, or are Changes Vital to Comply with EU Tax Law?
Shipping News Feature
UK – Yet another controversy over the manning of ships this week as P&O Ferries announced that more of its vessels plying between Britain and France are to be reflagged from the UK to Cyprus. The flag of convenience status has been said to be necessary to avoid any Brexit controversy but has met with a blistering riposte from union interests, adding to the ever longer list of such arguments.

The company said in December, when it reflagged two of its RoPax ferries, that travel between Dover and Calais meant that the change was necessary to preserve tonnage tax schemes which require ships to sail under the flag of a European Union country. At that time it said the status of other cross channel vessels was under review.

Now four more ferries, Pride of Canterbury; Pride of Kent; Pride of Burgundy and the European Seaway are all to be switched to the Cypriot register. The latest company statement concluded:

"Before the UK leaves the EU on March 29 we have re-evaluated the flag status of our ships on the English Channel. For operational and accounting reasons, we have concluded that the best move is to flip all ships to the flag of Cyprus.”

The decision has angered union interests, including the RMT which already has launched protests on the matter after the announcement that the government had agreed to grant £107 million to three ferry companies (but not P&O) in the case of a no-deal Brexit to support the trade, a decision which saw Transport Secretary Chris Grayling vilified. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:

“This is pure opportunism from P&O, whose long term aim has always been to switch the UK fleet to a tax haven register, as they have already done with most of the Irish Sea and North Sea fleet. We demand immediate assurance from P&O that the pay and terms and conditions of over 730 RMT members in Dover are not under threat from this move.

”We would also expect the Shipping Minister to see this move for what it is, rank opportunism from a company owned in Dubai. If P&O think they can use Brexit as a smokescreen for introducing the low cost crewing model on the vital Dover-Calais route then they have got another think coming.”

Whilst seafaring jobs are increasingly moving to employees from countries overseas the situation in the logistics sector elsewhere continues to be very different. The shortage of drivers for HGV vehicles continues and is having an increasing effect on the efficiency of the supply chain.

Office for National Statistics figures released this week show employment in Britain at record levels with 32.5 million employed and available jobs at the highest level since 2001. The increase is due to the UK’s rising population but unemployment is at 1.37 million, up by 8,000 although 68,000 lower than a year ago and at 4% the lowest percentage since 1975.

Photo: Courtesy of TripAdvisor.