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RMT calls for nationalisation of P&O Ferries and more use of furlough scheme to save staff from redundancy

Ferries’ Union RMT has joined calls to nationalise struggling P&O Ferries and for the government to make more use of the furlough scheme to save more than a thousand jobs.

The union has today written to the Shipping Minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP demanding actions from the Government to support the union’s fight for 730 seafarer jobs at Dover and Hull - 614 are specifically from the Dover route.

A P&O ferry in berth at the Port of Dover
A P&O ferry in berth at the Port of Dover

It comes after the company announced it is making 1,100 people redundant across the business on May 11.

It had already furloughed 1,100 in March and a further 300 in April when it announced it was reducing the Dover to Calais route to a three ship operation and laying up three ferries from the fleet.

Many of those furloughed are in line for redundancy but where the company is asking for volunteers, some unfurloughed workers may take the option.

In his letter, RMT general secretary Mick Cash calls the redundancies "an attack" on jobs.

He is calling on the UK Government to take a raft of steps to save jobs and to re-build UK seafarer employment in this country.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the maritime union RMT
Mick Cash, general secretary of the maritime union RMT

His points are:

  • To issue a public statement opposing compulsory redundancies and implore P&O Ferries to use the extended furlough scheme in the UK to protect employment for key workers, especially seafarers and dockers.
  • They ask Ms Tolhurst to place a condition of long term employment protections for British Ratings and Officers on all state support provided to P&O Ferries and any other operator, including but not limited to Public Service Obligation routes.
  • The union wants her to pursue public ownership and control of P&O Ferries’ operations as a priority.

Answering the threat of foreign nationals replacing staff in the Hull route, the RMT wants the government to outlaw nationality based pay discrimination against seafarers on UK registered vessels, commit to a strategy for returning the UK ferry fleet to the Red Ensign, amend the Tonnage Tax scheme to include mandatory links to training and employment for UK Ratings and Officers and Reform the UK’s Cabotage laws to apply and enforce UK employment, equality and inmigration law in the shipping industry.

Janette Bell, chief executive at P&O Ferries
Janette Bell, chief executive at P&O Ferries

Mr Cash said: “These are keyworker jobs that support the local economy, particularly in Dover and Hull.

“P&O Ferries and their paymasters in Dubai are threatening RMT seafarers’ jobs because they want to replace them with cheaper ratings from the other side of the world when the recovery in passenger numbers comes.

“We have a healthy dialogue with the shipping minister and her officials but we must now see dynamic action from the government in support of British seafarers jobs on vital ferry routes that are being subsidised by the taxpayer.”

A statement from the RMT said the Government has provided over £10m in wage payments to the 1,400 furloughed P&O staff since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The furlough scheme, now extended to the end of October is for people who are employed only and if P&O make the staff jobless the government will not be able to pay towards their wages.

Labour's parliamentary candidate, Charlotte Cornell
Labour's parliamentary candidate, Charlotte Cornell

Last week Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Dover Charlotte Cornell called on the government to nationalise P&O.

This week the Dover and Deal branch of the Liberal Democrats called for an extension to the furlough scheme for those whose jobs are at risk, but P&O has already told staff in a letter seen by KentOnline, that the redundancies are to shrink the business to the right size for now, during the pandemic, and into the future.

P&O Ferries declined to comment.

Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke have been contacted for a comment.

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