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Mandatory Seafarers' Charter would help prevent another P&O Ferries jobs massacre

18 Mar 2024
ITF banner "ships of shame" being carried at a protest
ITF banner "ships of shame" being carried at a protest

Two years ago, trade unionists across the globe reacted in outrage as P&O Ferries illegally sacked 786 UK seafarers, a move that UK unions RMT and Nautilus labelled a ‘national scandal’. These workers have yet to receive the justice they deserve, and the threat of another P&O Ferries-style jobs massacre looms large due to government inaction.

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

In the joint statement released on the two-year anniversary of mass sacking, the RMT, Nautilus and the UK TUC joined forces to call for a mandatory seafarers’ charter to boost seafarers’ rights in the international short sea ferry sector. 

“Having feigned outrage at P&O Ferries’ actions, 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,” said the statement.

“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 gamechanger.”

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation 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.”

ITF President Paddy Crumlin said: “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 gamechanger, levelling the playing field and supporting quality jobs for seafarers."

Unions demand action

The ITF backs Nautilus, RMT and TUC’s demands for: 

  • 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.

Can you add your name to the petition demanding action? P&O Ferries' jobs massacre second anniversary: Never again!


Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

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