Unions are calling for better employment laws and urging the Government to close ‘massive loopholes’ in international shipping legislation despite news of a multi-million pound compensation package for axed workers from P&O Ferries.
Protests are due to continue at the Port of Liverpool on Wednesday and Saturday over the sacking without notice - via a video message - of 800 workers last week.
The Rail Transport and Maritime Workers (RMT) union is demanding the reinstatement of P&O workers and wants the government to take action against P&O Ferries and its parent company Dubai-based DP World.
The RMT has claimed Filipino workers on the Liverpool-Dublin route have been on contracts paying a basic rate of £2.60 an hour.
P&O announced on Tuesday that it is offering over £36 million in compensation to sacked staff, with 40 employees in line for packages of more than £100,000.
However the RMT has branded the announcement as “disgusting” saying that seafarers have been told if they don’t sign up to non-disclosure agreements they will not get any settlement.
The union Nautilus said members had been put under “intense pressure” by P&O Ferries management to accept the redundancy terms “whilst threatening them with withdrawal of the offer made if they talk to the press or demonstrate against the company”.
Criticism of P&O settlement plan
Daren Ireland, RMT regional organiser, branded the payout announcement as ‘disingenuous’ and said the protests in Liverpool would be going ahead.
He added that there has been “longstanding problems” within the industry for years.
“This payout is only what the workers were owed anyway, so it is disingenuous for P&O to come across as if they are doing something special for those who have been sacked.”
Exploitation of workers
Mr Ireland said the minimum wage protection for being on land does not apply when going in between the ports.
The RMT claims Filipino workers on the Liverpool-Dublin route have been on contracts paying a basic rate of £2.60 an hour.
“We have been lobbying for decades for the protection of seafarers on international routes,” Mr Ireland added.
“In 2020 seafarers on domestic routes had their pay uplifted, but beyond that there is a massive loophole in international shipping [legislation] and Liverpool-Dublin falls into that category.
“There has been a huge decline in the shipping industry and local port communities being able to find work in the maritime industry, so you may find people are being exploited with foreign workers working six months on board with two months off when you would normally have a week on and a week off or two weeks on and two weeks off.
“The wages being offered in some circumstances in appalling, we’re talking about big economic nations here, why can’t they legislate on the Irish Sea, the North Sea and the Channel?
“The British Government has failed to legislate over these loopholes and needs to put emergency legislation through Parliament.”
Government response to P&O sackings
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng gave a deadline of 5pm on Tuesday for P&O Ferries to respond to a series of questions about the dismissal of staff and said the way they had been treated was ‘appalling’.
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesperson said:“We have received a response to the business secretary’s letter to P&O and are reviewing their explanations.
“We will continue to work at speed with the Insolvency Service to consider if legal action is required and will provide an update as soon as possible.
“Given recent reports of staff being paid below the National Minimum Wage, the business secretary has also asked the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to investigate the terms of agency workers’ contracts.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps wrote to P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite on Friday saying the Government would be reviewing all contracts with P&O Ferries and DP World.
Mr Hebblethwaite has been invited to attend an evidence session jointly held by BEIS and transport committees on Thursday, which will examine what options are available to Government and the workers who have lost their jobs.
P&O’s stance on the controversy
P&O Ferries said that 575 of the 786 seafarers affected are in discussions to progress with the severance offers.
A spokesperson added: “This has been an incredibly tough decision for the business: to make this choice or face taking the company into administration.
“This would have meant the loss of 3,000 jobs and the end of P&O Ferries.
“In making this hard choice, we have guaranteed the future viability of P&O Ferries, avoided large-scale and lengthy disruption, and secured Britain’s trading capacity.”