Union leaders have called on ministers to assume control of P&O Ferries’ passenger and freight services in the light of multiple safety failures.
A further P&O Ferries vessel, the Spirit of Britain, has been detained after surveyors identified deficiencies, casting doubt on the firm’s plans to restart the Dover-Calais route before Easter.
The Pride of Kent – also used on the Dover-Calais route – was detained on 28 March after failing a safety inspection. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said on Wednesday that it was reinspecting the vessel to assess whether it was safe to resume sailings from Dover.
The Spirit of Britain, based at Dover, has been detained by the MCA and will not be released until a further inspection is carried out.
An MCA spokesperson said: “We have advised P&O to invite us back once they have addressed the issues. We do not know yet when this will be.”
The vessels are now being crewed by agency workers on below national minimum wage rates in the wake of the mass redundancy of 800 P&O Ferries crews last month.
The TUC argued that the government acting as an “operator of last resort” would bring much-needed stability to the UK shipping industry and help curtail the long delays afflicting passenger and freight services at Dover, which has caused motorway chaos and supply chain dislocation.
P&O Ferries case
If a “fit and proper” operator could not be found quickly to replace P&O, then ministers need to step in and take over the running of services, said the union body. It added that P&O’s reliance on recruiting agency workers well below the minimum wage in order to operate demonstrated it was not a viable or sustainable operation.
The TUC was critical of government plans to clamp down on maritime companies that did not pay the minimum wage because it did not propose sufficient enforcement powers by putting the onus on ports themselves to police seafarers’ wages.
In the rail industry, the Department of Transport, said the TUC, 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. This provided a precedent for government action in the transport sector, the union body said.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added that the government should end all further contracts with P&O Ferries’ owner DP World – in addition to the measures already taken in regards to leadership of the freeports project – and must reinstate an employment bill that banned exploitative working practices in the Queen’s Speech.
She added: “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.”
“Only an employment bill which beefs up worker protections will prevent another P&O-style scandal.”