THE TRADES UNION CONGRESS (TUC) has repeated its call for the UK government to take over the running of P&O Ferries’ passenger and freight services as ‘a last resort’.

Ministers must step in to run services if a ‘fit and proper’ operator cannot be found quickly to replace P&O, says the union body.

The call comes after another P&O ferry failed a safety inspection by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), casting doubt on the firm’s plans to restart the Dover-Calais route before Easter.

As a result of several failed safety inspections since the unlawful sacking of 800 workers, the TUC says there are “significant concerns” about P&O’s ability to operate safely – especially given the loss of so many highly-trained and qualified staff.

The disruption to P&O’s services has already caused alarming backlogs in freight delivery and this is leading to supply shortages. The TUC adds that P&O’s reliance on recruiting agency workers at well below the minimum wage in order to operate demonstrates it is not a viable or sustainable operation.

The government had announced plans to clamp down on maritime companies like P&O that do not pay the minimum wage – but the union body says these plans will be difficult to enforce without much stronger enforcement powers.

Operator of last resort 

The TUC says there is a clear precedent for the government stepping in to keep vital services running.

In the rail industry, the Department of Transport (DfT) has stepped in to run intercity passenger services on the East Coast Mainline on two separate occasions following the failure of franchises run by Train Operating Companies.

The TUC says having the government as an operator of last resort would provide much-needed stability to the UK’s shipping industry too.

Pariah status 

The TUC says P&O’s owner DP World must be given “pariah status” after it unlawfully sacked 800 crew without consultation. UK law requires companies to consult with workers and unions before making redundancies, which P&O has admitted it failed to do.

The TUC says that in addition to finding another operator for P&O’s routes, ministers must:

  • Immediately cancel all contracts with DP world – including lucrative deals to run UK freeports
  • Urgently bring forward the employment bill to ban exploitative working practices and increase penalties for breaking employment law

Recent reports suggest the government is shelving the employment bill, despite first announcing the legislation well over two years ago in December 2019 and reaffirming its commitment to the bill on multiple occasions since.

The TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “If P&O can’t operate safely and without breaking redundancy law and hiring agency workers on a pittance, it hasn’t got a viable business model.

“The government must be prepared to step in and take over P&O’s freight and passenger services if a fit and proper operator cannot be found quickly. This has happened before in other sectors and would bring much-needed stability. There has already been far too much disruption to vital supply chain routes as a result of P&O’s disgraceful actions.”

On the need to for the employment bill and to impose proper financial sanctions against the company, she added: “P&O should mark a new chapter for workers’ rights in this country. But the government has quietly shelved the employment bill, which was supposed to make Britain the best country in the world to work. Only an employment bill which beefs up worker protections will prevent another P&O-style scandal.

“And it’s time to hit P&O in the pocket. Parent company DP World must be given pariah status and lose all its lucrative government shipping and freeport contracts.”

* Source: Trades Union Congress