2 mins read

Nothing has been done to stop repeat of P&O Ferries scandal, unions say

Unions have called for proper legal protection for seafarers on the second anniversary of the P&O Ferries mass sackings scandal, warning that ministers have “done nothing” to stop other firms following suit.

The cross-Channel ferry operator fired 786 British crew on 17 March 2022 in order to replace them with low-paid agency staff. Although the firm admitted to breaking the law, it has continued to operate without sanction while undercutting rival operators on labour costs.

Unions said that despite the outrage expressed by government at the time, ministers had not closed the legal loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries, nor sanctioned the firm or its owner, DP World.

The government has pledged to pass a seafarers’ wages act, to attempt to enforce minimum wage legislation for boats operating primarily in British waters, but legislation has yet to pass.

It has launched a seafarers’ charter, but while ferry operators including DFDS, Stena Line, Brittany Ferries and Condor Ferries are signatories to the commitment to work towards higher standards, P&O and Irish Ferries have not signed up.

A joint statement issued by the TUC, along with Nautilus International and the RMT, called for a mandatory seafarers’ charter with more protection for workers.

It said: “The government has done nothing to stop another P&O Ferries scandal. Despite admitting to acting illegally, P&O Ferries have faced no sanctions and have seemingly been let off the hook.

“Having feigned outrage at P&O Ferries’ actions, ministers have reneged on their promise to clamp down on bad bosses, failed to deliver an employment bill and failed to close the legal loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries.”

The statement said that proposed reforms “fall far short of what’s needed”, with a “feeble code of practice on fire-and-rehire that only makes breaking the law a bit more expensive” and a welfare charter that “was not mandatory – so bad employers can just ignore it, safe in the knowledge they will face zero consequences”.

P&O Ferries has since hired low-paid crew from around the world on short-term contracts, via an agency. Its chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, who told MPs he knew the firm was breaking the law, remains in place, despite the then transport secretary Grant Shapps saying his position was “completely unsustainable”.

A government spokesperson said: “We have worked at pace to bring forward our Seafarers’ Wages Act, consulting extensively with industry and unions to ensure we have ironclad legislation in place to help prevent this from happening again, while working to strengthen seafarer rights around the world.

“We expect to bring this into force in the summer, around the same time as French legislation, forming an international minimum wage corridor across the Dover strait.”