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P&O Ferries’ new vessel overshadowed by hire and refire anniversary

Photo: P&O Ferries New P&O Ferries vessel P&O Liberte
As P&O Ferries launches its newest hybrid vessel, the maritime industry remembers the mass firing of almost 800 seafarers in 2022.

Trade unions are marking the second anniversary of P&O Ferries firing 786 seafarers without notice on 17 March 2022 and calling for further government action. Nautilus, the TUC, and RMT unions will stage a demonstration outside UK Parliament to protest the lack of regulatory progress to prevent a similar event happening again.

The renewed action on the subject, which saw P&O Ferries and its Chief Executive Peter Hebblethwaite rise to infamy in the UK, comes as P&O launches its second hybrid vessel on the Dover to Calais route.

The scandal saw Hebblethwaite brought before the UK transport and business committees in March 2022, where he openly admitted that P&O Ferries had decided to break the law and not consult unions or staff ahead of the mass firings.

Some 786 seafarers were fired and around 90 were rehired into the same jobs with altered pay, terms and conditions. Late last year, International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association said that weak employment protections under UK law aided and abetted the P&O Ferries sackings.

The government said it would act to prevent a similar event happening again in the future, primarily through the Seafarers' Wages Act and the Seafarers' Welfare Charter. Both initiatives have been criticised by trade unions for failing to outlaw fire and rehire, leaving loopholes open in Trade Union legislation, and – in the case of the Charter – being entirely voluntary.

As P&O Ferries continues its operations with Hebblethwaite at the helm, Nautilus said UK opposition party Labour has committed to including a mandatory Seafarers' Charter, outlawing fire and rehire, closing the legal loopholes, and bringing forward an Insolvency Service case against P&O Ferries. 

P&O Liberté is 230 metre long and together with P&O Pioneer represents a £250m investment in transport capacity; the pair were built in China. The vessels have a hybrid power system with traditional fuels, and the potential for zero emissions operation with improved shore power facilities.