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  • The government acting as an “operator of last resort” would bring much-needed stability to the UK shipping industry, says union body
  • TUC warns if P&O can’t operate without hiring agency workers and paying them a pittance, it hasn’t got a long-term sustainable financial model
  • Ministers must sever all ties and contracts with P&O’s “pariah” owners until workers are reinstated, says TUC

The TUC has today (Thursday) said the government must be prepared to take over the running of P&O Ferries’ passenger and freight services “as a last resort”.

Ministers must step in to run services if a ‘fit and proper’ operator cannot be found quickly to replace P&O, according to the union body.

The TUC says that P&O’s reliance on recruiting agency workers well below the minimum wage in order to operate demonstrates it is not a viable or sustainable financial operation.

It has been reported that the agency workers from India replacing sacked staff are being paid as little as £1.80 an hour – well below the UK minimum wage of £9.50 an hour.

The call comes as “disgraced” P&O bosses face the scrutiny of the business, energy and industrial strategy and transport select committees today, in a one-off session focusing on the scandal.

Operator of last resort

The TUC says there is a clear precedent for the government stepping in to keep vital services running. In the rail industry, the Department of Transport (DfT) has 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. 

The TUC says having the government as an operator of last resort would provide much-needed stability to the UK’s shipping industry too.

The disruption to P&O’s services has already caused alarming backlogs in freight delivery and this is leading to supply shortages.

Pariah status

The TUC says P&O’s owner DP World must be given “pariah status’ after it unlawfully sacked 800 crew without consultation.

UK law requires companies to consult with workers and unions before making redundancies, which P&O has admitted it failed to do.

The TUC says that in addition to finding another operator for P&O’s routes, ministers must:

  • Immediately cancel all contracts until the workers are reinstated with DP world – including lucrative deals to run UK freeports
  • Kick DP World off its Transport Advisory Group – and any other government advisory groups
  • Urgently bring forward an employment bill to ban exploitative working practices and increase penalties for breaking employment law

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Everyone should be paid a fair wage for a day’s work.

“If P&O can’t operate without breaking redundancy law and hiring agency workers on a pittance, it hasn’t got a viable business model.

“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.”

On the need to impose proper financial sanctions against the company, Frances added:

“This is a watershed moment for the UK shipping industry and for workers’ rights in Britain.

"Under no circumstances can P&O be allowed to get away with its scandalous treatment of staff.

“Its owner must be given pariah status and lose all its government shipping and freeport contracts with immediate effect until workers are reinstated.”

Editors note

- Health and safety fears:

  • There are significant concerns about P&O’s ability to operate safely - especially given the loss of so many highly-trained and qualified staff.
  • Ships that operate under a UK flag require a certificate from the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) to operate from UK ports.
  • However, because P&O’s ferries are flagged to other states they do not require any MCA certificate.
  • The TUC says it is vital that P&O vessels are not allowed to leave port before proper inspections are completed and any issues identified fully resolved.
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