Union accuses P&O Ferries of using Covid-19 crisis to exploit foreign workers

By: Steven Tarbox

The UK’s RMT union launched a fresh attack on P&O Ferries yesterday over proposed changes to crewing. The company is accused of using COVID-19 as an excuse to replace UK seafarers with Filipino crew paid below the UK minimum wage. According to the RMT, P&O Ferries plans to replace 60 ratings on PRIDE OF HULL with 57 agency crew. The union alleges that the agency staff will be paid just £4.50 an hour and will be required to work 12 hour days, seven days a week, for up to six months.

Financial issues and staffing cuts

P&O Ferries has furloughed 1,400 staff as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and is currently consulting unions on making up to 1,100 people redundant. That equates to around a quarter of the ferry company’s workforce. The company has already asked for a £150m UK government bailout which to-date has not been forthcoming. It has previously been reported that the ferry and logistics group, which currently has a number of its ferries laid up, was losing some £250,000 per day.

The head of P&O Ferries parent company DP World has publicly criticised the UK Government for not moving swiftly to inject cash into the business. The requested £150m from the Government was planned to form part of a £250m rescue package. The balance was to come from cost savings such as changes to employee terms and conditions and the company pension scheme. DP World has so-far declined to inject additional funds into P&O Ferries itself.

P&O’s PRIDE OF BRUGES (ex Norsun). The ship is currently laid up in Rotterdam as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. P&O Ferries

Along with other ferry operators P&O Ferries qualifies for UK Government funding through the UK Government’s £35m “critical freight” scheme. This designates the Hull – Rotterdam route as a public service obligation route along with 15 other links. In total six of these “critical” routes are operated by P&O Ferries. The scheme is designed to keep routes financially viable following the drop in passenger and freight traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Blatant abuse”

RMT general secretary, Mick Cash said:

“Rather than working with the unions to adjust the furlough scheme, P&O is replacing 60 UK Ratings on the Pride of Hull with 57 agency crew from the Philippines who are paid £4.50 per hour. This is a blatant abuse of the current crisis.

“P&O Ferries must bring back furloughed UK seafarers to cover all vacancies on the Hull-Rotterdam and their other UK routes that qualify for the Critical Freight Grant. Exploiting Filipino crew at the cost of seafarers and the economy in Hull or anywhere else is totally unacceptable.

“Government action is urgently needed to force P&O Ferries to drop their outrageous redundancy plans and work with the trade unions and ministers on a rescue package to save seafarer jobs and skills in Hull and Dover.”

Kent Online has reported that P&O Ferries has declined to comment on the RMT’s accusations when contacted.

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