Two major UK unions have hit out at plans by Dover-based P&O Ferries to close one route and permanently reduce capacity on another. The plans are expected to result in up to 140 redundancies according to reports. This is in addition to the up to 1,100 redundancies already announced by the company earlier this year.
As was revealed last week, P&O intends to close its Hull-Zeebrugge passenger and freight route. The route is understood to have been loss making for a number of years, with the COVID-19 pandemic increasing these losses further. According to leaked documents, Brexit uncertainty is also a factor in the decision.
P&O Ferries Dover – Calais route, which in normal times had up to six ferries operational at one time, is being permanently cut to a maximum of four. The remaining two ships, PRIDE OF BURGUNDY and EUROPEAN SEAWAY, have reportedly already been listed for sale. The Hull – Zeebrugge ships PRIDE OF YORK (ex NORSEA) and PRIDE OF BRUGES (ex NORSUN) are also believed to have been sale listed.
Loss of Trust
Responding to the news, which the company has not yet publicly announced, the head of industrial at the Nautilus Union Micky Smyth said:
‘P&O has consistently failed to meaningfully engage and listen to Nautilus during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a loss of trust. We are also extremely surprised that the company intends to sell the European Seaway as this vessel has previously been used very successfully as a drydock relief vessel on the Irish sea,’
Last week, the General Secretary of the RMT Union Mick Cash said:
“In the summer, P&O Ferries received over £6.6m from the taxpayer on the two Port of Hull routes, including Hull-Zeebrugge. This does not need to happen but P&O’s owners in Dubai have pulled the plug on this vital route with no consultation, threatening jobs, passenger services and the recovery of Hull’s maritime economy.
“We have consistently warned the Government that they need to protect seafarer jobs on international ferry routes from further attacks but they have failed to take action. This must change and all Ratings jobs lost from the closure of the Hull-Zeebrugge route must transfer to the Pride of Rotterdam on the Hull-Rotterdam route.
“Our members must not be denied these jobs by crewing contracts that pay below the national minimum wage.”
In response to media reports about the closure last week, a P&O Ferries spokesperson said:
“Due to the extended impact of Covid19, we are having to take further difficult action in which some jobs will be made redundant – but as a result thousands more jobs will be saved. These necessary steps will ensure we are a slimmer and more agile business that is better able to give customers the service they want and the value they demand.”
The Hull – Zeebrugge ferry route was originally started by North Sea Ferries in 1972. During 1996 the company, which had been a joint-venture between P&O and Nedloyd, was wholly absorbed into P&O.
In 2001, PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BRUGES replaced smaller ships on the route following the arrival of PRIDE OF HULL and PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM on the Hull – Rotterdam route. According to the Nautilus Union, the Hull – Zeebrugge route has not made a profit since the arrival of PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BRUGES 19 years ago.
PRIDE OF BURGUNDY is currently laid up at Leith, while EUROPEAN SEAWAY is laid up at Tilbury. While PRIDE OF BRUGES is currently in service on the Zeebrugge route, PRIDE OF YORK has been laid up at Hull since April.
P&O’s Dover – Calais route is currently served by three ships, but a fourth, PRIDE OF CANTERBURY, is expected to return in a freight-only capacity next week. She is currently undergoing maintenance in Rotterdam following layup with PRIDE OF BURGUNDY at Leith.