Unions raise safety concerns over new P&O Ferries crew following sackings

Unions have shared their “serious” safety concerns following the sacking of almost 800 staff on P&O Ferries, suggesting that a lack of training for the replacement agency crew will mean that “lives will be put in jeopardy”.

The General Secretaries of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union and Nautilus raised concerns about staff experience and pressure from “the company”, on the same day it was revealed new crew will be paid well below the UK’s minimum wage.

The Pride of Hull docked in Rotterdam after unexpectedly leaving her berth at King George Dock on Wednesday night with a skeleton crew and no passengers.

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It is believed to be going into dry dock in Europoort Rotterdam, where new crew members will be trained.

People take part in a demonstration against the dismissal of P&O workers organised by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at the P&O ferry terminal in Cairnryan, Dumfries and Galloway

In a letter sent to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday, both unions said: “The agency staff are only receiving a few days’ familiarisation and will be put under intense pressure from the company which will have the effect of importing a far higher level of safety risk to passengers and workers meaning that lives will be put in jeopardy.”

Their intervention comes as The boss of P&O Ferries yesterday admitted the company broke the law by not consulting unions before the redundancies were announced last Thursday.

CEO Peter Hebblethwaite said that such discussions would have been a “sham” because no organisation would have accepted the restructure that has seen the firm hire cheaper agency workers on an average of £5.50 an hour. Despite this, he acknowledged there is “absolutely no doubt” the unions should have been spoken to.

Seafarers on the Pride of Hull ship which runs between Hull and Rotterdam in The Netherlands are among those to have lost their jobs, and more protests are planned this weekend.

Explaining the decision not to consult with trade unions, Mr Hebblethwaite told a joint session of the Commons’ Transport and Business select committees: “We assessed that given the fundamental nature of change, no union could accept it and therefore we chose not to consult because a consultation process would have been a sham. We didn’t want to put anybody through that. We are compensating people in full and up-front for that decision.”

During the session Mr Hebblethwaite also revealed that his annual base salary of £325,000 and that he has a desk in Hul, but declined to answer when asked if he could live on £5.50 an hour, the average wage earned by newly recruited workers and more than £3 per hour below the UK minimum wage for people aged 23 and over.

“Where we are governed by national minimum wage, we will absolutely pay national minimum wage.

“This is an international seafaring model that is consistent with models throughout the globe and our competitors.”

Commenting on whether he believed that was a fair wage or whether he saw it as “modern day slavery”, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “The rates we are paying are in line or above ITF minimum standards and it is the operating model that the vast majority of operators across the globe work to.”

Afterwards, chair of the Transport Committee Huw Merriman called on Mr Hebblethwaite to “consider his position”.

“It is untenable to come to Parliament to say you have decided to break the law, you have no regrets,” he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is also facing questions about what he may have known, as Mr Hebblethwaite suggested that Mr Shapps was informed on November 22 last year by P&O Ferries’ owner DP World that the company would be changing its business model.

A DfT spokesman said: “DP World did not mention to the Transport Secretary any changes it would be making to P&O Ferries and there was no indication of the completely unacceptable changes it has subsequently made.”