Published: 12:44, 13 May 2020
| Updated: 20:41, 13 May 2020
The government must step in to nationalise P&O Ferries and avoid an economic disaster for Dover.
That's the call from Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Dover and Deal Charlotte Cornell on the news that more than 600 jobs are being axed as the operator struggles to survive during and after the coronavirus.
Mrs Cornell says the British taxpayer needs ‘commitments’ or ‘conditions’ in return for any government cash it has had and she claims many of those who will become jobless are the same seafarers who have been vital in keeping key supply lines running during COVID-19 "often at increased personal risk for themselves and their families."
She also joins RMT general secretary Mick Cash in predicting the Dubai owned firm will replace existing staff with cheaper foreign workers on some routes, previously identified by P&O as Hull to Rotterdam.
If this happens those workers from overseas will work without the same employment benefits, sick pay entitlements, or leave allowances, she said.
Mrs Cornell, who stood for election in December, added: "If we allow workers to be treated like this, it will begin a race to the bottom for workers’ rights in the area.
"In order to protect jobs and to protect the benefits and entitlements of retained crew, whilst securing the future of Britain’s maritime workforce, the government must nationalise P&O."
It comes after the roll-on-roll-off freight and tourism operator announced on Monday that 1,100 jobs will be slashed from across its business with no breakdown of which ports or departments these jobs apply to.
Yesterday, a leaked crew staffing list revealed Dover to Calais seagoing jobs are most at risk, which the company has not commented on.
The document said operations would drop from six ships to three and 613.8 ratings would lose their jobs, listed elsewhere in the document as 687 full time equivalent posts.
Further details revealed crewing numbers for the sixship model are currently 1,236 reducing to a total 568 FTE positions, made up of 484 FTE positions for the three operating ships, and an extra 66 roles to crew laid-up ships and 18 other unspecified crew.
Reducing the number of live on board staff is priority but it did not reveal whether staff at its Channel House headquarters would be made redundant,which be additional to yesterday's leaked figures.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who has urged P&O Ferries to save as many jobs as possible, raised the issue in Parliament yesterday.
Today she said: This is not the time to be playing politics. This is a time to battle to save local jobs and that is what I am doing.
“I have worked hard to secure millions of pounds of Government support for the ferry industry, and I am continuing to work with P&O and the unions to save as many local jobs as possible.”
This morning Mrs Cornell added: "I am calling on the local MP and bosses at the Port of Dover to join my call for the government to step in and prevent this local economic disaster.
"We, on the Kent coast, are very proud of our excellent crew, high maritime safety standards and seafarer heritage.
"So many people I speak to are in agreement that it is just plain wrong that the British taxpayer has been paying the furlough salaries of many crew members whilst at the same time the big bosses at the Dubai-based company (DP World) that owns the company are paying millions out in dividends to foreign shareholders."
She added: "Some people have been calling only for a £150 million bailout to help save P&O, but this does not go far enough.
"Why would the British government put millions more in to a foreign-owned company that in the future will continue to pay dividends to wealthy individuals abroad and likely come back in a post-COVID era to once again threaten the job security of existing British employees? Again, some people are saying that they would be asking for ‘commitments’ or ‘conditions’ in return for a bailout.
"Again, this is not good enough; this would end up in court, causing more expense for taxpayers here.
"A key company such as P&O, fully nationalised and back in the hands of the British government will ensure that all revenue is retained by the same taxpayers that would fund any bailout and will secure fair employment on the Dover-Calais and Hull-Rotterdam crossings."
P&O has not commented.
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More by this authorBeth Robson