Thursday, March 17, 2022

Ferry Company Dismisses All Eight Hundred Seagoing Staff and Fleet Sailings Halted

Government Blamed for Failing to Act on Employment Law
Shipping News Feature

UK – Staff, passengers and truck drivers have been devastated by the news that P&O Ferries has shut down all its UK ferry services and given notice to 800 staff, the entire crew of its fleet serving the UK. The DP World owned ferry company has issued a statement saying the 'business is not viable'.

Whilst Covid will doubtless take the brunt of the blame for the situation things actually go far deeper. In January 2020 we turned, not for the first time, to the ongoing row between shipping line, the RMT union and the government.

That article pointed out the accusations of inequality with six of the P&O ships, having already been reflagged to Cyprus a year previously, seeing Portuguese staff swapped for cheaper Filipino staff on two of the vessels. Now DP World says it has been losing vast sums and changes are essential. A statement read:

”[It is] a very difficult but necessary decision to secure the future viability of our business, which employs an additional 2,200 people, and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK. However, in its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100 million loss year-on-year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now.”

The RMT Union has argued with the UAE owned company for years as it has watched British jobs exported, and this in an environment where hope was that post Brexit regulations would secure the future of such work. Despite repeated requests to make employment of this type more secure, with UK citizens employed on UK services, the government has insisted throughout the solution lay with negotiation rather that legislation.

This policy now lies in tatters and opposition politicians have been swift to criticise with such as Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, saying:

“Unscrupulous employers cannot be given free rein to sack their workforce in secure jobs and replace with agency staff. The Conservative government must not give the green light to this appalling practice, and must act to secure the livelihoods of these workers.”

General secretary of the professional maritime workers union Nautilus International, Mark Dickinson, called the sudden move a betrayal of trust and pointed out the scandal of the Dubai based company receiving British taxpayer’s money during the pandemic, then issuing redundancy notices without any consultation. Nautilus members have been told to remain on station on the vessels concerned, as have RMT union members whose own general secretary, Mick Lynch, said:

“We are deeply disturbed by growing speculation that the company are today planning to sack hundreds of UK seafarers and replace them with foreign labour. We have instructed our members to remain on board and are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected and that the Secretary of State intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”

The government cannot say they were unaware of the threat of this happening. On the 11 June 2019 in a statement in the Commons Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility said in answer to a question from Hull East MP, Karl Turner:

”I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, and he is absolutely right: this is unacceptable, and I am more than happy to meet him to discuss it. But I just want to reiterate that the law is clear that any individual undertaking work in the UK is entitled to receive the national minimum wage; this includes workers in different sectors, which is why we are taking this action, and we will be laying legislation in the autumn.”

Until now however it would appear that, despite heavy lobbying, particularly from the RMT, no action has ever been taken to protect UK maritime jobs for staff serving on ferry routes with one leg ending or starting in the country. This type of action in the cross channel ferry trade is hardly new news however. Remember the ghosts of SeaFrance, MyFerryLink and the like.These too involved prolonged sit ins, but to no avail.

The latest P&O statement reads:

P&O Ferries have today announced a programme of work to become a more competitive and efficient operator, providing a better service to our customers across the tourism and freight industries. While we enact these changes, there will be significant disruption across P&O Ferries services over the next few days, however we are working to minimise the impact on your journey.

If travelling on our Dover/Calais route please arrive at the port as booked and we will arrange to get you away on an alternative carrier as quickly as possible. Once at the port please make your way to the DFDS check-in booths.

Photo: Courtesy Doverboy.