Revoke licences of P&O Ferries, union urges Shapps

Nautilus International’s general secretary Mark Dickinson said the action taken by the firm was “deplorable”.

19 March 2022

A maritime union has urged the Transport Secretary to revoke P&O Ferries’ licences in British waters as the operator resumed services on one of its routes.

Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson has written to Grant Shapps encouraging the Government to take urgent action against the ferry operator after it sacked 800 workers two days ago.

In a letter, published on Twitter, Mr Dickinson called for Mr Shapps to “hold P&O to account” in six ways, including revoking its licences to operate in British waters, pursuing “any legal option available” over how P&O handled the mass redundancies, and requesting the return of any taxpayer cash the ferry operator received during the pandemic.

He wrote: “The action of P&O Ferries, terminating the employment of 800 British seafarers with immediate effect and without any consultation, is deplorable and a betrayal of British workers.

“This decision by P&O is a major blow to the British maritime industry… we cannot sit back and allow P&O Ferries to sink the nation’s maritime strategy.”

It comes after the ferry operator said it was cutting the jobs in a “very difficult but necessary” decision as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.

Sailings were halted on Thursday morning following the announcement and P&O Ferries told passengers they would remain suspended “for the next few days”.

However on Saturday, P&O said it had resumed one of its services crossing the Irish sea.

An update on the company’s Twitter feed said: “We have now resumed services between #POLiverpool & #PODublin. For booking information please visit our website.”

Other routes remain suspended or cancelled.

Conservative Party Spring Forum
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaking during the Conservative Party spring forum in Blackpool (Peter Byrne/PA)

P&O Ferries, which transports passengers and freight, operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

Protests were held in ports across England and Northern Ireland on Friday in response to the cuts.

On Saturday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said around 300 people attended a demonstration near the Conservative Party spring forum in Blackpool.

RMT was in attendance at the protest, which was organised by Nautilus International.

East Hull Labour MP Karl Turner showed his support for the protesters and posted photographs of them carrying banners and flags which read “Save P&O jobs! Save Britain’s Ferries!” and “Stop the P&O jobs carve up” as they paraded through the streets of the town.

Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said on Saturday there is “revulsion” about P&O Ferries’ actions this week.

He told Times Radio the Government is trying to establish whether the move was legal.

“That is why the Transport Secretary (Grant Shapps) has asked the Insolvency Service to look at the notification requirements, for example, and see whether further action is appropriate,” Mr Dowden said.

“All of us feel, frankly, a revulsion at the kind of sharp practices from P&O. There has been a complete lack of engagement, a lack of prior notice or indeed any empathy whatsoever for the workers.”

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said: “We took this difficult decision as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options but, ultimately, we concluded that the business wouldn’t survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which in turn would inevitably result in redundancies.

“We also took the view, in good faith, that reaching agreement on the way forward would be impossible and against this background that the process itself would be highly disruptive, not just for the business but for UK trade and tourism.

“We have offered enhanced severance terms to those affected to properly and promptly compensate them for the lack of warning and consultation.

“The changes we’ve made bring us into line with standard industry practice.”

He added that all affected crew who were working at the time were notified face-to-face and in-person on board their vessels. Those who were off were called, emailed or texted.

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