Unions claim P&O payment is silent money and say Liverpool protests will continue

The RMT claims the sailors were told that if they did not sign non-disclosure agreements they would not get any settlement from P&O’s £36million compensation package.

Unions are calling for better jobs laws and urging the government to close ‘huge loopholes’ in international shipping law despite the announcement of a multi-million pound compensation package for workers made redundant P&O Ferries.

Protests are due to continue at the Port of Liverpool on Wednesday and Saturday against the summary dismissal – via video message – of 800 workers last week.

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The Rail and Maritime Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) is calling for the reinstatement of P&O workers and wants the government to take action against P&O Ferries and its Dubai-based parent company DP World.

The RMT claimed Filipino workers on the Liverpool-Dublin route had contracts paying a base rate of £2.60 an hour.

Manchester Underground Mayor Andy Burnham poses with Councilor Maria Toolan and protesters.

P&O announced on Tuesday that it was offering more than £36 million in compensation to redundant staff, with 40 staff on hold for packages worth more than £100,000.

However, the RMT called the announcement ‘disgusting’, saying seafarers have been told that if they don’t sign non-disclosure agreements they won’t get any settlements.

The Nautilus union said members had been under ‘intense pressure’ by P&O Ferries management to accept redundancy terms ‘while threatening them to withdraw the offer made if they spoke to the press or demonstrated against the company”.

Critique of the P&O Settlement Plan

Regional RMT organizer Daren Ireland called the payout announcement “dishonest” and said protests in Liverpool would continue.

He added that there have been “longstanding issues” within the industry for years.

“This payment is only what the workers owed anyway, so it is dishonest for P&O to give the impression that they are doing anything special for those who have been made redundant.”

A man holds a flag in support of seafarers as protesters gather outside the entrance to the Port of Liverpool. Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Exploitation of workers

Mr Ireland said minimum wage protection for being ashore does not apply when traveling between ports.

The RMT says Filipino workers on the Liverpool-Dublin route have contracts paying a base rate of £2.60 an hour.

“We have been pushing for decades for the protection of seafarers on international routes,” Mr Ireland added.

“In 2020 seafarers on domestic routes saw their pay rise, but beyond that there is a huge loophole in international shipping. [legislation] and Liverpool-Dublin falls into this category.

“There has been a huge decline in the shipping industry and local port communities being able to find work in the shipping industry so you may find people being exploited with foreign workers working six months on board with two months off when you would normally have one week on and one week off or two weeks on and two weeks off.

“The wages offered in certain circumstances are appalling, we are talking about big economic nations here, why can’t they legislate the Irish Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel?

“The UK government has failed to legislate on these shortcomings and needs to push emergency legislation through Parliament.”

Government response to P&O layoffs

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng gave P&O Ferries a 5pm deadline on Tuesday to respond to a series of questions about the dismissal of staff and said the way they had been treated was “appalling”.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesman said: ‘We have received a response to the Business Secretary’s letter to P&O and are reviewing their explanations.

“We will continue to work quickly with the Insolvency Service to determine if legal action is necessary and will provide an update as soon as possible.

“Given recent reports that staff are being paid below the national minimum wage, the Business Secretary has also asked the Employment Agency’s Standards Inspectorate to investigate the terms of workers’ contracts. interims.”

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to P&O. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite on Friday saying the government would review all contracts with P&O Ferries and DP World.

Mr Hebblethwaite has been invited to attend a testimony session jointly organized by BEIS and the transport committees on Thursday, which will examine the options available to the government and workers who have lost their jobs.

P&O’s position on the controversy

P&O Ferries said 575 of the 786 seafarers affected are in discussions to advance redundancy offers.

A spokesperson added: ‘It has been an incredibly difficult decision for the company to make that choice or face corporate takeover.

“It would have meant the loss of 3,000 jobs and the end of P&O Ferries.

“By making this difficult choice, we have secured the future viability of P&O Ferries, avoided large-scale and long-lasting disruption, and secured Britain’s trading capacity.”