P&O Ferries sacked 800 seafarers without warning on March 17 as part of a plan to replace its crew with cheaper agency labour. P&O Ferries services had been disrupted since the announcement as it attempts to prepare replacement crews, but reports suggest plans to return vessels to service on some routes have been delayed.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) claims to have seen evidence that agency crews will be paid as little as £1.81 ($2.39) per hour, well below the UK minimum wage of £8.91 per hour.
Some social media users expressed concern that the safety of large ferries, including those crossing the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, would be entrusted to low-paid workers. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that the agency workers were being exploited and that the ships must not be allowed to sail.
Protests and demonstrations have continued in multiple locations up and down the UK, including in London where protestors gathered outside of DP World’s UK headquarters. Demonstrators criticised the company for its decision not to meet with prominent union leaders and hear their concerns.
Protestors also rallied outside of parliament, where MPs voted in favour of an Opposition Day Motion condemning P&O Ferries. The non-binding vote expressed the will of parliament, calling on the government to suspend contracts with DP World until the matter is settled, remove DP World from the government’s own Transport Advisory Group and to outlaw the fire and rehire practice used by P&O Ferries.
Transport Secretary Grant Schapps confirmed that the government was reviewing its contracts with DP World and P&O Ferries, and that legal action will be considered over the layoffs. Schapps further added that his department was working with others to support affected staff, and that steps would be taken to remove P&O Ferries from advisory boards.