Friday, April 22, 2022

Talk is Cheap With No Logical Solution In Sight As the Sacked Ferry Staff Row Rumbles On

How Can Constraints to Wages be Disbursed Across Other Maritime Sectors?
Shipping News Feature

UK – With several weeks having passed since Dubai owned P&O Ferries sacked some 800 staff to enable the employment of cheaper substitute crews one wonders if Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, has finally witnessed the penny dropping with regard to such matters.

As ever the problem with British politicians and civil servants is their employment in positions in which they usually have no knowledge or experience in the industries and professions they are charged with overseeing. When the ferry group announced its swingeing changes the reaction was to announce that ports might add the task of wage inspectors to their already full schedule.

This of course is a nonsense, ports spend all their time trying to attract every type of shipping associated customer, from fishing boats to super tankers, all of which boast a huge variety of crew nationalities, and of course differing rates of pay. We have pointed out often before that one has two choices in this regard, a free market or a government imposed regime a la the Jones Act in the US.

Even the draconian measures which that political corset imposes however can only relate to domestic shipping, as such English Channel crossing traffic would be beyond its domain. We can therefore probably watch Mr Shapps proposed policy, like so much more from this administration, be quietly shoveled under the carpet as reality bites.

Whilst the government prevaricates the maritime unions continue in their quest to reverse the situation. Both Nautilus and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have called for intervention after they say inspectors seeking to ensure the welfare of seafarers were denied access to P&O Ferries vessels in the Port of Dover.

In what the unions say is an almost unprecedented move for the UK, officials at the port this week refused to allow inspectors working for the ITF to access the vessels. They claim they were visiting the port to investigate welfare issues raised by replacement crew members on P&O Ferries vessels, who have been hired on temporary contracts. ITF inspectors have ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) code clearance, which enables them to enter all UK ports and board all vessels in UK waters where seafarers request assistance.

The problem arose despite advance notice of the inspections being emailed as a courtesy when the Port Police refused the inspectors access on the basis that they had no advance warning of the visit. The inspectors in fact are not obliged to provide prior warning to ports or vessel owners of impending visits to inspect vessels or investigate abuse of seafarers' rights. ITF inspector Tommy Molloy commented:

"As an ITF Inspector in the UK for 17 years this is the first time I have been refused access to a UK port to investigate crew welfare issues. Experience shows us that if non-compliant employers are tipped off to our inspections, often crew members get threatened and incriminating documentation goes missing. Our inspections are random by nature and by necessity."

Reports state that six P&O vessels have been detained by the authorities since the incident, two of which have subsequently returned to service. The RMT union says several of the company ships have been held in limbo since the mass sacking on March 17 with complaints of unseaworthiness due to agency crews not being familiar with the vessels, a lack of competency around fire safety and emergency evacuation, firefighting equipment that is not fit for purpose, and deficient structural integrity levels.

The RMT is pinning hopes on support from the government’s backing of the union’s proposed ‘Fair Ferries’ agreement with Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary, saying:

“P&O’s claim that they had to sack our members on grounds of efficiency was always a ludicrous claim and has now been entirely blown out of the water. The Sultan of Dubai who owns P&O ferries is being allowed to hold this country to ransom because the government refuses to take over the running of the company and put the 800 sacked staff back to work to safely operate those vessels.

“P&O are running a pirate outfit staffed by undertrained, ill prepared and super exploited agency workers making their ferries unsafe for the travelling public to use. The contempt that the company have for both staff and passengers alike is underlined by the Easter travel chaos at UK ports that their illegal actions have unleashed.

“ We are gathering support from all political parties, passengers, commercial hauliers the wider trade union movement, and businesses across the supply chain in this continuing battle for justice. The Government must apply economic sanctions to P&O for the cost of their destructive actions and we need a Fair Ferries agreement in order to avoid any repeat of this type of gangster capitalist behaviour in the future.”


Despite a series of mass protests against the actions of the ferry group, the latest this week outside owner DP World’s London headquarters the company seems bound to stick with its committed decision as explained by P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite in his letter to Grant Shapps on March 29.

Photo: The Spirit of Britain the latest P&O Ferries ship to be detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for failing Port State Control safety inspections