P&O’s attack on Seafarer Ratings – Political response

Circular No.NP/83/22

To all Branches and Regional Councils

25th March 2022

Dear Colleagues

P&O’s attack on Seafarer Ratings – Political response

I am writing to update you on the P&O Ferries scandal and the political actions we have taken this week to fight for Ratings jobs and reverse this disgraceful and illegal attack which has hit our members and their families.

On Monday, following a demonstration outside DP World’s offices in London and a rally outside Parliament, a Labour Party motion condemning P&O supporting the reinstatement of our members and demanding action against P&O and DP World was passed in the Commons. No MP, Government or backbencher voted against it. The union has been working closely with the Labour Party and others on this issue and the RMT provided a detailed briefing for the debate with many of our key arguments used by MPs.

Early Day Motion 1115 was tabled to kick back at this outrage and has been signed by 72 MPs. Not a single Tory MP has signed this to date.

RMT-led demonstrations took place in Dover, Hull, Cairnryan, Larne and Liverpool against P&O Ferries, calling for a boycott and demanding action against this disgraceful company and its unscrupulous parent company DP World. Solidarity from national and international trade unions has been strong and we need to maintain this, especially in all European ports where P&O or DP World operate.

The union has been in contact with Labour politicians as have our members including with the Labour leader Keir Starmer who used all his six questions at Prime Ministers Questions to put pressure on the Prime Minister to concede that P&O had acted illegally and the government would be bringing forward reform to minimum wage legislation.

In a joint letter with Nautilus, we have put the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on the spot over their role in inspecting safety standards on these ships where crews with average experience of twenty years have been replaced with inexperienced, low paid Ratings who have no operational knowledge of these ships. We remain extremely concerned by familiarisation and seafarer training standards, particularly on the Pride of Hull which the MCA cleared to sail from Hull to Rotterdam earlier in the week.

On Thursday I gave evidence to MPs from the Transport and the Business Select Committees and also briefed committee members who raised RMT’s numerous concerns. P&O and DP World gave evidence and, incredibly, P&O CEO Peter Hebblethwaite arrogantly and brazenly admitted that the company chose to break UK employment law and even stated to MPs: “This is the only way for us to save this business, and we have moved to a [crewing] model that is internationally recognised and widely used across the globe and by our competitors. I would make this decision again.”

Furthermore, Mr Hebblethwaite, who is paid a basic £325,000 a year, confirmed that the average pay for the agency crew who have replaced RMT members will be £5.15 per hour. We have been warning Government for years that unless they strengthen UK seafarers’ rights on international routes then employers will eventually replace local seafarers with cheaper crews recruited overseas by the likes of Clyde Marine, particularly when the ships are registered under Flags of Convenience like Cyprus, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Even the blatant example of Irish Ferries on the Dover-Calais route in June last year did not lead to Government action, and our seafarers and their families are facing the consequences of this appalling failure of Government.

This jaw dropping display of corporate aggression must be met with a serious response from the Government, otherwise other ferry companies will follow suit. Your union is engaged in intensive dialogue with the Government and the Shadow Transport Secretary in order to get our members back their jobs and the prevent a catastrophic race to the bottom on international ferry routes from UK ports.

P&O and DP World must return public funding received during the pandemic, when our members were key worker heroes. The Government is reviewing all its contracts with P&O and DP World and this must mean exclusion from Freeports.

We are in regular contact with Minister and officials and politicians. We are straining every sinew in the fight back for seafarers against P&O’s repulsive actions, which remain subject to complete condemnation from across the entire political spectrum. The campaigning efforts throughout the union have ensured that the P&O scandal is high on the news agenda every day.

I would be grateful if you could bring the content of this circular to the attention of all members in your Branch and you will be kept updated with further developments.

Yours sincerely

Mick Lynch
General Secretary