Freight News, Sea

P&O Ferries ‘planned to recruit Russian and Ukraine seafarers’

[ March 21, 2022   //   ]

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) says P&O Ferries’ original plan was to replace its recently sacked 800 workers with Russian and Ukrainian seafarers.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there had instead been “a chaotic scrabble to recruit seafarers on two week contracts through a shady shell corporation”.

The two unions said that parent company DP World had serious questions to answer. They said that DP World “sells itself as a progressive business concerned with social and corporate responsibility that supports labour rights and works ‘in a responsible way that prioritises sustainability and impact on the people, communities and environment in which we operate’.”

However, P&O Ferries fired 800 British-based seafarers with 30 minutes’ notice over a pre-recorded Zoom call, without any consultation with its workforce or their unions.

The unions are calling on DP World to engage in meaningful dialogue with affiliates RMT and Nautilus International about P&O Ferries’ future.

P&O Ferries’ actions represent “an outmoded and discredited management style,” said president of the ITF and chair of ITF’s Dockers’ Section, Paddy Crumlin. “DP World’s callous decision to sack and attack 800 hard-working seafarers represents a brutal attack on their dignity,” said Crumlin. “In doing so, they’re breaching laws and failing to meet their own company’s standards.”

ETF president Frank Moreels said that the use of non-union replacement labour was “a fundamental breach of workers’ rights to freedom of association”.

They say that in 2019, DP World signed up to the UN’s Global Compact (UNGC). Its own policy on sustainability says: “DP World is a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and its 10 core principles, which encompass human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. By signing the UNGC, DP World has committed to align its strategies and operations with these principles.”

“They can’t have it both ways,” said Crumlin who is also Co-Chair of the Committee on Workers’ Capital. “One minute they’re voicing their support for human rights and ESG principles and the next they’re throwing 800 people out of work with 30 minutes notice.”

The ITF will raise the case of the P&O seafarers at the UNGC Board meeting in Dubai on 28 March, and ITF’s general secretary Stephen Cotton has approached DP World chief executive Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem to discuss this as a priority. Cotton will also deliver a global protest letter — signed by hundreds of unions and thousands of workers addressed to Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem.

The unions say that P&O Ferries’ owner DP World has made record revenue and profits throughout the pandemic, turning over $10.8bn in revenue and $1.2bn in profit last year, a 33% increase in profit compared with the previous year. The company has paid out $376.1 million in dividends to shareholders over the past two years alone.

They add that, according to press reports DP World received over £30 million in emergency funding during the pandemic.

Moreels added that a leaked memo has exposed that Ministers were informed of P&O Ferries’ intention to sack the workers the night it happened but did nothing to stop it.