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Industrial

P&O Ferries broke the law and must be penalised

23 March 2022

Statement from Mark Dickinson, general secretary, Nautilus International

In 2018, Nautilus International as social partner succeeded in placing into UK law a requirement that an employer of seafarers, proposing to carry out large redundancy dismissals had to report this to the competent authority of the flag state. This was part of a package of other remedies to improve the protections afforded to seafarers.

Before 2018, there was no UK requirement to report large redundancies in the maritime sector at all. Seafarers, as is more often the case, had been excluded from six important EU employment protection Directives (on TUPE, information and consultation, etc.), one of which contained the employer’s reporting duty, in respect of large redundancies of land-based workers, to the government of the Member State in which they carried out their work.

Nautilus and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) had to lobby for many years to have these important EU Directives fully applied to seafarers. It concluded with a Social Partners Agreement between ETF and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), being appended to an EU Directive, to achieve this outcome.

Thus, Section 193A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 now places a duty on any employer proposing to dismiss as redundant 100 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less to notify the flag state, in writing, of their proposal before giving notice to terminate an employee's contract of employment in respect of any of those dismissals, and at least 45 days before the first of those dismissals takes effect. If the redundancies number 20 or more employees (but less than 100), the notice period is 30 days.

We believe the Government must penalise P&O Ferries for their omission. The Prime Minister today confirmed at PMQs that he agrees with us.

In 2020, P&O Ferries fully complied with the law in announcing and consulting on 1,100 redundancies across the business. In 2022, Mr Hebblethwaite has freely admitted in his letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, that notification was made to the “relevant authorities” on 17 March 2022.

That notification clearly contravenes the requirements of 193A to provide the pre-requisite notice as required by section 193(1) or 193(2).

P&O Ferries were obliged to provide 45 days’ notice to the Cypriot authorities, and 30 days’ notice to the Bahamian and Bermudan authorities. Mr Hebblethwaite, last night admitted in writing to the UK Government that he, his fellow directors, and the company broke the law.

Using the good offices of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) we will be seeking to also challenge the flag states – all ‘flags of convenience’ – I am not hopeful, but I expect that they will fulfil their obligations and also pursue P&O Ferries for failing to notify them according to their national legislation.

Our members deserve decent employment with decent employers and our work, which has been ongoing for over 165 years will continue to this end. However, P&O Ferries have sunk themselves legally and reputationally. They broke the law, and no end of legal tautology will change that.

Nautilus International now expects the government to take all possible action against these law breakers, who think they can buy silence and bully seafarers into unemployment or accepting lower wages and detrimental and unsafe terms and conditions of employment.

I look forward to attending the extraordinary joint session of Transport Select and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committees tomorrow and to explain further the full extent of the company's misdeeds.


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