It is high time to deliver a European Maritime Space for fair and sustainable shipping

29 Mar 2022

The shocking and unprecedented sackings at P&O Ferries will not help level the playing field in European waters. It is high time to deliver a European Maritime Space for fair and sustainable shipping.

On Thursday, 17th March 2022, P&O Ferries management, which operates on regular routes in Europe, notified their employees that the company would be making a major announcement later in the day and ordered their vessels to stand by for further instructions after discharging their passengers and cargo.

Indeed, the same day, P&O Ferries announced via zoom, email, and text that it was severing the employment contracts of its 800 UK seafarers with immediate effect. It came as a total surprise to the seafarers and their recognised unions, as P&O did not (as required by law) engage in collective consultation. The company further informed that the 800 UK seafarers would be replaced by agency workers provided for by International Ferry Management in Malta, established in February this year.

The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) supports our UK affiliates in their outrage at how P&O Ferries has treated their seafarers with a complete and blatant disrespect and disregard for national labour regulations, collective bargaining processes, and social dialogue.

It is also noteworthy that P&O Ferries have four vessels under an EU flag, Cyprus, which should normally exercise effective jurisdiction and control over social matters on its ships.

There is clear information the company wants to recruit seafarers with lower employment terms and conditions. This may create downward pressure on terms and conditions and social protection for European crews, thus paving the way to social dumping in European waters. The resulting situation may distort competition and could adversely affect safety and the environment.

The shipping industry during the pandemic has been keen to appeal in support of keeping ships moving, ports open, and cross-border trade flowing, but have all shipping companies really cared about seafarers? We didn’t get any tangible evidence so far that those shipping companies see the issue of the protection of the well-being and rights of seafarers or job creation, recruitment and retention of European-domiciled seafarers as essential and are willing to do something about it. On the contrary, they seemingly continue looking for cheap labour and registries.

Before the pandemic, we have pushed the European institutions for positive change in the industry to show clear political leadership and a commitment to initiate policy and sustain an authentic European Maritime Transport strategy. We are still waiting for the European institutions to deliver sustainable and quality shipping in Europe.

During the pandemic, the European institutions have been actively trying to coordinate seafarers’ movement across borders. There is a pressing need to draw the right lessons in the current context, and Europe must be serious about protecting seafarers’ rights, its maritime jobs, and its maritime skills base. We do not want a one-shot endeavour or a symbolic gesture towards seafarers; we demand long-term public commitment and a fair allocation of State support.