Home   Dover   News   Article

Government reveals actions to protect ferry workers after P&O sackings but RMT union calls for more radical reforms

Nine new commitments have been announced by the government to protect seafarers after 800 P&O workers were sacked without warning - but union bosses are calling for more.

The list includes changing the law so workers receive 'at least the minimum wage', fining firms which use fire and rehire tactics, and taking action against company leaders who break the law.

Protesters in Dover the day after P&O Ferries made hundreds of staff redundant
Protesters in Dover the day after P&O Ferries made hundreds of staff redundant

It comes as P&O Ferries made 800 workers redundant with no prior consultation in a shock move on March 17, some via an online, pre recorded video call.

Foreign agency workers, being paid cheaper wages, were brought in to replace the seafarers, 600 of which were based in Dover.

Over the last two weeks, P&O services from Dover have been stopped altogether, with one of its ships, the Pride of Kent, being detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) after failing a safety inspection.

Several protests have also broken out, with calls for the company to be boycotted, and further demands for the sacked workers to be reinstated, including threats from the government.

But P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite - who admitting breaking the law with the move - says he will not reverse the decision, as it would "deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs".

Three P&O ferries moored at Dover earlier this month. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Three P&O ferries moored at Dover earlier this month. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Today, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps released the list of commitments the government will put into action to support those who work at sea.

The MP said: "P&O are acting like pirates of the high sea and its CEO not only admitted in Parliament about deliberately breaking the law, but had the audacity to confirm it in a letter to me too.

"They exploited a weakness in international maritime law to sack 800 workers without notice, and without consultation.

"We are sending a clear message to everyone that if you want to operate in the UK then you have to conduct yourself just like any other boardroom.

"So today, I have announced 9 commitments to ensure no seafarer working on a ferry in the UK is paid below minimum wage."

The full list of commitments reads:

  • Change the law so that seafarers are paid at least the minimum wage
  • Ask British ports to bar access to ferry operators which do not pay the minimum wage
  • Work with international partners to create minimum wage corridors
  • Ask HMRC to dedicate National Minimum Wage resources to the maritime sector
  • MCA to continue their robust enforcement policies
  • Financially penalise companies which use fire and rehire
  • Take action against company leaders that break the law
  • Improve the long term working conditions of seafarers
  • Encourage more ships to operate under the British flag, so workers on board can benefit from more right
Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Mr Shapps' plan of action is being supported by Dover MP Natalie Elphicke.

She said: "The Transport Secretary has announced a strong package of measures so P&O Ferries cannot benefit from their actions and to hold them to account, including for the Insolvency Service to consider striking off Peter Hebblethwaite as a director, together with new agreements and law."

Folkestone MP Damian Collins added: "P&O have behaved appallingly towards their workers. I thank @GrantShapps for his robust response, and for making sure traffic keeps moving through Kent.

"We also need to make sure @MCA_media doesn't allow poorly crewed ships to cross the Channel."

South Thanet's Craig Mackinlay tweeted: "A robust approach by government over the #pandoferries behaviour."

But Mick Lynch, RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) union general secretary, said today's announcement is "far too little, far too late".

He is calling on tougher reforms.

He said: "Despite all the bluster, Grant Shapps has failed to grasp the opportunity to adequately stand up to the banditry behaviour of P&O.

"The Prime Minister repeatedly said to parliament that the Government would be taking legal action save British seafarers’ jobs but he has failed to keep his word.

"This continued lack of action and courage has meant a ferry company owned by the Dubai royal family has been able to break our laws and disrupt our ports and ruin people’s lives with impunity and we will keep pressing the government to ensure justice for our members.

P&O vessel the Pride of Canterbury berthed at Dover. Picture: Kevin Clark
P&O vessel the Pride of Canterbury berthed at Dover. Picture: Kevin Clark

"What has been announced today is far too little, far too late and we are calling for urgent action for speedier more radical reforms to save the UK seafarer from oblivion."

On the proposal of ports blocking ships a Port of Dover spokesman said: “Clearly this is something affecting all UK ports with international ferry services, and a consistent approach is needed. We expect this will be coordinated through UK port trade bodies.”

In total, the MCA will inspect eight P&O ships.

The European Causeway (Larne to Cairnryan) remains under detention along with Pride of Kent (Dover – Calais).

The Pride of Hull has been inspected and cleared to sail.

Five other ferries are yet to be inspected, with the MCA saying it is "waiting for P&O Ferries to confirm the schedule".

Until then, no P&O services are running from Dover, with Irish Ferries and DFDS picking up extra capacity.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More