UK unions call for seafarers’ charter to protect shortsea ferry employees

2024-03-27T18:45:34+00:00 March 27th, 2024|Appointments|

In the joint statement, released on the two-year anniversary of mass sackings at P&O Ferries, the RMT, Nautilus and the UK’s TUC unions jointly called for a mandatory seafarers’ charter to boost seafarers’ rights in the international shortsea ferry sector.

Two years ago, trade unionists worldwide reacted in outrage as P&O Ferries illegally sacked 786 UK seafarers, a move that UK unions RMT and Nautilus said was a ‘national scandal’.

The sacked workers have yet to receive the justice they deserve, and the threat of another P&O Ferries-style jobs massacre looms large due to the UK Government’s inaction, they claimed.

Using ‘fire and rehire’, P&O Ferries replaced the sacked workers with agency staff paid less than UK minimum wage (according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, in some cases as little as £4.87 an hour) demonstrating a blatant disregard for workers’ rights and the rule of law.

“Having feigned outrage at P&O Ferries’ actions, (UK) Ministers have reneged on their promise to clamp down on bad bosses, failed to deliver an Employment Bill and failed to close the legal loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries.

“It is welcome that Labour have already responded to the P&O Ferries’ sackings by committing to a mandatory seafarers’ charter to protect seafarer’s employment and conditions. That charter, including provisions for a fair pay agreement as envisaged in the New Deal, would be a game changer,” the unions said.

Stephen Cotton, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) General Secretary, said: “Two years on and the UK Government has failed to deliver on promises to strengthen protections for seafarers. These workers have rights which must be upheld – the right to fair pay, and the right to safe and secure jobs. Rights that were overturned by P&O Ferries in their bid for ever more profits for their shareholders.

“ITF stands with the RMT and Nautilus in their ongoing struggle for justice for these workers and backs their call for a mandatory seafarers’ charter,” he said.

ITF President, Paddy Crumlin, added: “P&O Ferries broke the law with impunity, and the lack of consequences exposes a broken system that prioritises corporate greed over workers’ rights. It is clear that there’s one rule for corporations and another for workers. This blatant disregard for workers’ rights cannot stand.

“Maritime unions around the world stand with UK unions. To prevent another P&O Ferries scandal, a mandatory seafarers’ charter enshrining fair pay agreements and sectoral collective bargaining rights on short sea ferries is a crucial step in the right direction.

“This would be a game changer, levelling the playing field and supporting quality jobs for seafarers,” he stressed.

The ITF backed Nautilus, RMT and the UK’s TUC demanded:

⦁ Mandatory Seafarers’ Charter: A mandatory charter that protects seafarers’ employment rights and working conditions, including fair pay agreements.
⦁ Strengthening worker protections: A new deal on workers’ rights such as Labour’s proposed ‘New Deal for Working People’, to ensure all workers are treated with dignity and respect in a safe workplace.
⦁ Closing legal loopholes: Comprehensive reform to close loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries to prevent similar ‘fire and rehire’ situations from happening again.

P&O Ferries said in a statement: “P&O Ferries is fully committed to signing the voluntary Seafarers’ Charter.

“We look forward to working constructively and closely with the (UK) Department for Transport at the earliest opportunity and in the coming months to put seafarers’ welfare at the heart of the maritime sector.

“We have been consistent in always calling for a level playing field among ferry operators to deliver the shared ambition of Government and industry of having a thriving sector,” the company said.