Dismissals at P&O Ferries: ETF and its affiliates stand together for fair working conditions and equal treatment

15 May 2020


ETF deplores P&O Ferries’ proposal to make 1,100 redundancies amongst key workers in Dover, Hull, Liverpool, Cairnryan and Larne including over 900 UK seafarers. We understand that P&O Ferries has received an undisclosed figure from the UK taxpayer to keep maritime freight routes running and over £10 million public funding to pay 80 per cent of the wages of 1,400 furloughed staff members, some of whom now face redundancy. We believe that any public funding received by shipping companies to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic should be conditional on the protection of local employment and the Collective Bargaining Agreements with the ETF’s UK affiliates for the long term.

ETF is clear that the pandemic must not be used as an excuse for companies to neglect their obligation to protect local jobs and communities, local employment conditions or health and safety standards of key workers including seafarers, especially when continuing public funding has been made available to businesses to maintain critical supply chain routes.

ETF stands in solidarity with the workers and families in coastal communities affected by P&O Ferries’ hostile decision.

We call on P&O Ferries, its parent company DP World and the British government, to work with the recognised trade unions to develop a sustainable strategy that supports local employment and maritime skills for the long term, instead of taking short term advantage of the Coronavirus crisis to cut jobs, terms and conditions by extending the ‘low cost’ crewing model in the ferries or any other sector of the shipping industry.

Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary said: “RMT will not accept seafarers losing their livelihoods as a consequence of Covid-19. P&O is clearly planning to mothball ships and operate a skeleton, state supported freight service until passenger demand returns, when they will bring in low cost crews at the expense of RMT Ratings and the local economy.  Coronavirus is a convenient smokescreen for the long-term aspiration of parent company DP World to use our strategically vital ferry routes to repay the Government of Dubai’s debts. RMT members and the European trade union movement will not stand for this cynical attack on key workers’ jobs and skills at the height of a global public health crisis.”

Nautilus International believe that the proposed restructure and reduction of vessels on the North and Short Sea routes is economic suicide and short sighted. We refute entirely the proposals and seek to negotiate on behalf of Maritime Professionals a proper pathway past the pandemic that ensures the future of the company and the jobs of our members”.

“The company told us that P&O had serious financial problems and were planning to make cuts before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. They are now cynically using the virus as a cloak and dagger, with the emphasis on dagger, to slash even more jobs through unneccesary redundancies” said Robert Morton, National Officer, Unite the Union.

Frank Macklin, Regional Organiser, GMB Trade Union said “Loyal P&O workers, many of whom have given their working lives to P&O are now being given the biggest possible kick in the teeth during what has been the biggest crisis to hit the UK since world war 2. The work that P&O staff carry out at this time is essential to ensure that medical equipment and food reaches their destination where they are urgently needed. Every Thursday in both the UK and Europe we clap and salute our hero essential workers in the NHS, public services and especially the transport sector. Our NHS colleagues are without doubt the organs that have kept the UK  spirits up and keep us going, but our colleagues in public services and the transport sector are the blood vessels and if the blood vessels stop, then everything else stops as well. The GMB calls on DP world and the UK government to meet with the recognised trade unions to ensure that we still have a viable ferry industry going forward where skilled workers do not see their pay and terms and conditions slashed while their owners pocket dividends worth hundreds of million of pounds”.


P&O Ferries decided to furlough some 1,400 seafarers, dockers and other staff in the UK, with the support of over £10m from the UK taxpayer to meet 80% of wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

P&O Ferries has further announced plans to make 1,100 of its staff redundant in its Hull and Dover operations. This includes 735 Ratings and 108 Officers and 55 proposed redundancies of port workers at Hull, Liverpool, Cairnryan and Larne.

The ferry operator, based in Dover, Kent said the collapse in passenger numbers and general downturn in business resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic had forced its decision to lay off staff.

P&O Ferries’ parent company the Government of Dubai entity DP World made £1.3 billion profit last year and paid a £270 million dividend to shareholders on 29 April 2020.

In September 2019, the company signed a contract worth £200m with Guangzhou shipyard, China for two new roll-on roll-off ferries on the Dover-Calais route from 2023.

The UK Government announced on 12 May 2020 that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme would be extended for another three months to 31 October 2020.