Seafarers’ Union RMT has written an open letter warning of the consequences for seafarer jobs, maritime safety and economic prospects in Dover and across the country.
This was as a result of a failure to tackle anti-trade union employer Irish Ferries’ exploitative crewing model, the union claimed.
In his letter, RMT General Secretary, Mick Lynch (pictured), said: “The port of Dover is a maritime lifeline for an island nation, supporting thousands of jobs locally and across the country. The post-Brexit era of trading and travelling may have been damaged by the pandemic, but it has been made far worse for Dover by the failure of the (UK) Conservative Government to protect local seafarer jobs in the ferries industry. They seem far more interested in making political capital out of desperate asylum seekers than increasing jobs and training for seafarers out of Dover.”
He added that the seafarer jobs cull at P&O Ferries at the height of the pandemic could have been avoided if the Government had persuaded P&O’s owners in Dubai to use the furlough scheme rather than sack hundreds of local seafarers.
“And now we have the arrival of anti-union company Irish Ferries who have been flying exploited seafarers over to work in the Irish Sea for years.
“Since June, Polish and other European seafarers have been working on the ‘Isle of Inishmore’ between Dover and Calais. Pay for the ratings on that ship can be well below the National Minimum Wage. The crew also lack basic pension rights and are employed on a voyage only basis to work 12 hours per day for seven days per week for up to eight weeks – this is a threat to maritime safety, as well as a threat to jobs and local businesses in Dover, and Calais.
“This is a local and national issue. And don’t just take our word for it. A motion in the Westminster Parliament raising concerns about Irish Ferries and calling on the Government to act has received cross-party support from MPs in constituencies the length and breadth of the UK.
“But make no mistake, this is a betrayal of Brexit in a coastal community scarred by the industrial changes the country underwent in the 70s and 80s. At this rate, we certainly won’t see ‘more jobs and money’ from Brexit, as the local MP, Natalie Elphicke promised in 2020. What is far more likely is that the contagion will spread to other operators in Dover being undercut by Irish Ferries and more local seafarer jobs and training schemes will go.
“And this failure goes to the heart of Government. Shortly after he was appointed, Shipping Minister Robert Courts told MPs in September, 2020: ‘I want to see…those who operate in and around UK waters use a UK workforce wherever possible.’ Yet the Government has refused to make any changes that would require Irish Ferries to employ and train local seafarers in Dover, tackle fatigue inducing rosters or recognise trade unions.
“The plain fact is that the Government, local MP and the port have all rolled out the red carpet for Irish Ferries in Dover, instead of standing up for jobs and the local economy. The message from RMT is clear: protect seafarer jobs, defend maritime safety and build a future for our children,” Lynch concluded.