Published: 10:33, 08 April 2021
| Updated: 10:45, 08 April 2021
A leading union has hit out at plans for Irish Ferries to run a Dover to Calais service later this year - accusing it of having "an appalling safety record" and crewing its vessels "almost entirely with eastern European seafarers".
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) says it fears for jobs and the local economy could be at risk when the cross-Channel service launched in June.
It has written to Dover MP Natalie Elphicke seeking an urgent meeting to discuss its concerns.
Mrs Elphicke has previously described plans for the service as "excellent news".
In the letter, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said to the MP: "As you may be aware, Irish Ferries currently operate between Rosslare-Pembroke, Dublin-Holyhead and Dublin-Cherbourg. This company has an appalling safety record and its vessels are crewed almost entirely with eastern European seafarers.
"The basic hourly rate of pay for an 'ordinary seaman' on the Cypriot-registered MV Ulysses was €5.51 in November 2018 and we believe that this ‘low cost’ model is planned for the Dover-Calais route from June, effectively shutting hundreds of seafarers out of jobs and further damaging local businesses and the economy in Dover, just at the point passenger numbers recover.
"In the midst of the pandemic, P&O Ferries made hundreds of seafarers in Dover redundant, something which the town is still reeling from. The last thing local seafarers need is the arrival in Dover of an aggressive, anti-trade union ferry operator like Irish Ferries that will undercut P&O Ferries and DFDS putting more key workers’ jobs under pressure in post-Brexit Dover.
"The Conservative government is very keen to talk about its ‘levelling up’ agenda. Irish Ferries’ arrival would unquestionably ‘level down’ jobs, pay, conditions and safety standards in the Port of Dover. I would welcome an urgent meeting to discuss this development which, as it stands, is completely unacceptable to RMT members in Dover and to their union."
Irish Ferries said it would not be commenting on the claims. However, on its website it says it "operates to the highest safety standards, as set down by the International Maritime Organisation and monitored by the regulatory authority in each country".
The Port of Dover has so far welcomed the arrival of Irish Ferries. When the news was first announced, Doug Bannister, the port's chief executive, said: "This is a clear signal of market confidence in the Dover route and will complement the resilient services currently provided. We wish Irish Ferries every success and look forward to having them on the route in the summer and working together as part of the Dover team building the future success of the short straits."