P&O workers demonstrate in Liverpool Credit Nautilus International
P&O workers demonstrate in Liverpool. Photo: Nautilus International

Union Nautilus International has issued a formal letter of dispute to the management of P&O Ferries following yesterday’s public relations farce when the company sacked 800 seafarers via a Zoom call.

P&O Ferries and its parent, Dubai’s DP World, have doubled down on its view that consultation with workers and their representatives and, seemingly UK law, are irrelevant by incorporating a company in Malta, apparently to handle crewing options for its UK ferry services.

International Ferry Management (IFM) was incorporated near Valetta on 11 February, with Swiss national Antonio Ciriale named as an involved party. The Loadstar contacted Mr Ciriale but he said he was unable to comment.

He did, however, supply a contact for IFM’s public relations officer in the UK, who has not responded to our calls. The IFM offices appear to be in a residential area of the Maltese capital.

And rumours that Cyprus-based Columbia Shipmanagement would be involved in crewing P&O’s ships remain unconfirmed. Columbia has also not responded to phone calls and messages from The Loadstar.

Both Nautilus International and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have confirmed that legal proceedings are likely after P&O having, effectively, “driven a coach and horses through UK employment law” while the UK government has meekly stood by and watched.

A Nautilus spokeswoman told The Loadstar: “P&O did not follow the legal requirement to give notice of redundancy, they did not enter into consultation with the workforce and they did not, seemingly, inform the secretary of state, as they are required to do. Therefore we will be pursuing a legal case.”

Nautilus has 220 seafarers employed with P&O Ferries, with the RMT also involved in discussions as well as the federation of international transport unions represented by the ITF. The unions feel they have a very strong legal case.

They are expecting rallies and demonstrations to take place outside DP World offices, including at 16 Palace Gate in London, scheduled for 4pm today.

It is understood that the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) will be inspecting all eight P&O Ferries vessels that operate out of the UK. It is not currently known how long this will take.

In the meantime, freight continues to move at Dover, with DFDS, which has a vessel-sharing agreement with P&O, expected to increase the number of daily departures to take up some slack. Irish Ferries will also pick up some of the extra demand. However, neither Irish Ferries nor DFDS has responded to The Loadstar so far.

The other major player, Getlink, which operates the rail shuttle through the tunnel link to Calais, has seen an increase in enquiries. Train departures are regular, departing every eight to 10 minutes, with the company operating 15 rail shuttles with a further three due this year.

In the long term, Getlink believes its business case enshrines speed of crossing and the frequency of shuttles available, but does not want to jeopardise what it sees as its competitive advantage. Nevertheless, The Loadstar understands that, since yesterday, there has been a significant increase in the number of calls from customers looking to increase the number of crossings they make.

It is certain that many trucks will be looking for alternatives to P&O Ferries, with its vessels in Dover, Hull, Cairnryan and Liverpool unavailable. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the ports of Larne in Northern Ireland and Hull in England have seen blockades today, making freight movements difficult.

Dover, which handled 561,000 trucks in the fourth quarter of last year, is apparently operating reduced services, but is seeing few delays.

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