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Joint statement – P&O Ferries' two year anniversary

15 March 2024

P&O Ferries' brutal sacking of 786 dedicated seafarers in March 2022 was a nadir in modern industrial relations. 

Two years have since passed – but 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.

And the paltry reforms that they have pushed forward fall far short of what's needed. 

P&O Ferries priced-in the illegal mass sacking of hundreds of seafarers. Their bosses at DP World sanctioned the breaking of UK law and could afford to do so. 

The government’s feeble code of practice on fire and rehire makes breaking the law a bit more expensive, which will do nothing to deter deep-pocketed rogue employers. 

And their much-trumpeted seafarers' welfare charter isn't mandatory – so bad employers can just ignore it, safe in the knowledge they will face zero consequences. 

After all of the grand promises made by ministers, nothing has been done to save jobs or improve employment rights and the conditions for agency seafarers employed on the P&O Ferries fleet have deteriorated.

Without strong employment laws, robust enforcement and proper sanctions, rogue employers like P&O Ferries will continue to profit from treating staff like disposable labour. 

The race to the bottom in terms and conditions for those in the ferry sector will only continue.

This is why we need an Employment Act, such as a New Deal for Working People – like Labour is proposing –to ensure that everybody is treated with dignity and respect in a safe workplace. 

It is welcome that Labour have already responded to the P&O Ferries' sackings by committing to a mandatory seafarers’ charter to protect seafarer's employment and conditions. That charter, including provisions for a fair pay agreement as envisaged in the New Deal, would be a gamechanger.

To prevent another P&O Ferries we need that commitment introduced as soon as possible. 

It would help to level the playing field for good employers while supporting quality seafarer employment.

As an island nation, seafarers are an essential part of supplying our country with food, fuel and goods needed to survive and thrive.  

For too long parts of our labour market have been like the wild west – with many seafarers particularly exposed to hyper-exploitation and a lack of enforceable rights and unsafe employment conditions. 

It's time to drag our outdated employment laws into the 21st century. Without this, another P&O Ferries scandal is on the cards. 

Image: Mark Dickinson graphic with quote for p&o ferries 2nd anniversary
Image: Nautilus International

Mark Dickinson Nautilus general secretary: 'In the aftermath of the unlawful actions of P&O Ferries, the government set themselves a specific test – to ensure this can never happen again.

'By that single measure, they have failed. We need a mandatory seafarers charter alongside bilateral arrangements to enforce decent pay and conditions reflective of local standards, not international minimums. We need an employment bill to close the legal loopholes and once and for all outlaw fire and rehire. Our nation’s maritime professionals, the backbone of our economy, deserve better.'