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Join us: Westminster rally to condemn government failures to prevent another P&O Ferries scandal

13 March 2024

Two years after P&O Ferries sacked almost its entire UK-resident seafarer workforce, the company's scandalous actions have not been forgotten. Our message is simple: the government has not done enough.

Nautilus has continued to fight for legislative changes that will prevent companies carrying out such disgraceful acts. Alongside the TUC and RMT union, will attend a demonstration to be held outside Parliament on Wednesday 20 March from 13:00 to 14:00. 

Let us know if you will be joining the rally

We have also published a joint open letter to government addressing our concerns and launched a petition asking ministers to redouble their efforts to protect seafarers.

Government 'action'

Addressing the House of Commons shortly after the mass-sackings in 2022, then-transport secretary Grant Shapps set the government a simple task: stop another P&O Ferries from happening again.

Since March 2022, Nautilus has been campaigning, holding the government to account and working hard to channel the widespread public outrage into long-lasting meaningful changes that will end the perpetual race to the bottom in seafarers’ terms and conditions.

Unfortunately, the government have not yet done enough.

Two of the government’s primary initiatives post-P&O Ferries were the Seafarers' Wages Act and the Seafarers' Welfare Charter.

The principal purpose of the Seafarers Wages Act was to extend the UK National Minimum Wage to seafarers on ferries calling into a UK port 120 times per year.

A basic criticism of the act is that Nautilus members were not employed on the UK minimum wage. They are highly trained, highly skilled maritime professionals who benefitted from rates of pay negotiated through decades of collective bargaining. The Act does not end the incentive for P&O Ferries to employ seafarers from abroad on much weaker terms and conditions and pay.

Further, as the UK government cannot legislate beyond UK territorial waters, there is little to stop a ferry company from paying their seafarers less than the UK minimum wage once they are outside the UK.

The Act also does not deal with a major source of P&O Ferries' cost-cutting measures: roster patterns. Nautilus CBAs with P&O Ferries stipulated no more than a 2-on / 2-off crew rotation, which research shows to be better for crew fatigue and safety than longer tours of duty, particularly in the busy Dover to Calais (short sea) route, where week on/week off operations were the norm and where vessels would be undertaking up to 10 crossings per day. We also received reports that seafarers employed onboard P&O Ferries vessels on the short sea route following the sackings were undertaking tours of duty up to nine months.

Although most of the seafarers were sacked by P&O Ferries, approximately 90 were 'fired and rehired' brought back into the same jobs onboard but under significantly different pay, terms and conditions. After a lengthy consultation on a code of practice on the use of fire and rehire, the government's final version lacks bite. It makes the coercive practice slightly more costly for an employer but falls far short of outlawing it completely.

P&O Ferries also exploited loopholes in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. These loopholes allowed them to factor in the cost of refusing to consult trade unions before the sackings, to avoid notifying the secretary of state for business in advance, and also provided no injunctive relief for trade unions to force the company to cease its actions and carry out a proper consultation.

None of these ferry-sized gaps in UK employment law have been closed since March 2022.

The Seafarers' Welfare Charter does go beyond the Act and aims to progress areas such as roster patterns and others including hours of rest, pensions, medical entitlement, sick leave and more. Yet the Charter is entirely voluntary and unsurprisingly P&O Ferries has not signed up to support the aims.

Neither the Act nor the Charter will stop another P&O Ferries from happening again.

However, we believe that the Charter does offer a framework to reverse the race to the bottom if significant changes are made. Clearly, the charter must be made mandatory and properly enforced.

Opposition support

Behind the scenes, Nautilus has been active in seeking political support for stronger measures and this is beginning to bear fruit.

The principle of a mandatory Seafarers' Charter has received significant political support from the Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh and deputy leader Angela Rayner. The idea was also supported by the Transport Select Committee, a cross-party group of MPs chaired by the Conservative MP Iain Stewart, which called for a mandatory charter in its report on the implementation of Maritime 2050. Nautilus believes that alongside making the Charter mandatory, it should be underpinned by enforcing collective bargaining with a recognised trade union in a country at which there is at least one regular port stay. Collective bargaining is the primary mechanism for protecting and enhancing terms and conditions.

Two years on, our campaigning has seen further progress. Labour has committed to including a mandatory Seafarers' Charter, outlawing fire and rehire, closing the legal loopholes and bringing forward the Insolvency Service case against P&O Ferries. It has also led to cross-party support for a mandatory Charter. There is a growing consensus that more can and must be done.

Nautilus will not stop campaigning, irrespective of which party forms the next government, until we are confident that the race to the bottom in pay and conditions for our nation's maritime professionals has been ended, once and for all.

  • Join us in the ongoing campaign by signing our petition here