UK-based seafarer ratings union RMT has poured scorn over P&O’s claim that Brexit was behind a decision to switch the entire Dover/Calais ferry fleet from the UK to the Cypriot flag.
RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “This is pure opportunism from P&O, whose long term aim has always been to switch the UK fleet to a tax haven register, as they have already done with most of the Irish Sea and North Sea fleet.
“We demand immediate assurance from P&O that the pay and terms and conditions of over 730 RMT members in Dover are not under threat from this move. We would also expect the (UK) Shipping Minister to see this move for what it is – rank opportunism from a company owned in Dubai.
“If P&O think they can use Brexit as a smokescreen for introducing the low cost crewing model on the vital Dover/Calais route then they have got another think coming,” he warned.
Earlier this week, P&O confirmed it was switching all of its English Channel ferry fleet from the UK flag to Cyprus.
P&O has six UK-registered ships operating on the English Channel route to France, although it announced last month it was moving two ropaxes to the Cyprus registry and one had already been transferred.
This move could complicate any attempts by the UK Government to secure extra space on ships to help cope with potential disruption to trade if it fails to secure a negotiated departure from the EU, Reuters reported.
“In advance of Britain leaving the European Union on 29th March, 2019, we undertook a review of the flag status of our ships on the English Channel,” a P&O statement read. “For operational and accounting reasons, we have concluded that the best course of action is to re-flag all ships to the Cyprus flag.”
P&O also said that the move “will result in significantly more favourable tonnage tax arrangements, as the ships will be flagged in an EU member state. We have no plans to make any other changes, including the terms and conditions of any of our seafarers, as a result of the new arrangements.”
Last December, the UK government approached companies, including P&O, to secure back-up vessels in case Britain failed to secure a negotiated withdrawal from the EU. Since then, Britain has awarded contracts worth more than £100 mill in total to three shipping companies to provide extra ferries, including French operator Brittany Ferries, Denmark’s DFDS and a new British company, Seaborne Freight.