Former P&O ferry workers fear another employment scandal a year after 800 seafarers were sacked

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

Former P&O workers who were among almost 800 seafarers to suddenly lose their jobs in a mass sacking last March fear a similar scandal could happen again.

This month marks a year since the ferry company fired almost a third of its workforce claiming the firm would go bust otherwise.

The shock move was condemned by the public and politicians with the Government vowing to improve protections for British seafarers.

A new law ensuring all marine workers operating regularly in UK waters is being passed designed to deter companies from firing and rehiring staff.

RMT union representative Lee Davison who was a former P&O ferry says the Seafarers Wages Bill lacks teeth,

"All it's going to do is give the guys that were brought in is a pay rise. These jobs were never minimum wage jobs they were critical safety jobs.

"This used to be a job where you could be at school and work on the ferries when you leave. I'm a second generation seafarer and now that opportunity has been taken away from us.

"And we're starting to see the impacts in the town, the pubs, restaurants, on a Wednesday on changeover day, they were all busy and bustling. Now they're just dead."

John Lansdown joined P&O ferries at the age of 16 Credit: John Lansdown

John Lansdown, a former P&O ferry chef who won an employment tribunal after being sacked, says,

"They took away the place that we called home for half the year and they also took away our seafaring families.

"On a personal level, it's been really hard for me to adjust and really come to terms with what's happened and move on.

"The seafarers wage is not worth the paper it's written on. The seafarers now working out of UK ports on a regular basis will get minimum wage when they're in UK waters. That just doesn't go far enough."

P&O Ferries admitted sacking was unfair dismissal Credit: ITV Meridian

The Government say the Seafarers Wages Bill forms part of a nine point plan to improve pay and conditions for seafarers.

It also includes a pledge to work with European Governments and companies to a uniformed minimum wage in all continental waters.

Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke said, "The seafarers wages bill is part of an important package of measures that came out of P&O (ferries) appalling behavior and added to that, we have new employment codes of practices.

"We have a new Maritime code of practice and really importantly, a discussions about a new bilateral agreement with the French to ensure that right across our short straits seafarers are properly looked after."

In March, people protested outside Maritime House in Dover after P&O Ferries suspended sailings. Credit: PA

While P&O ferries will not face a criminal prosecution although the firm is being investigated under a potential civil crime.

The company said demand for travel is strong with one million passengers carried last summer and customer numbers at the highest level since the pandemic.

Last March, there were calls on people to boycott the company.

Travel expert and host of The Big Travel Podcast, Lisa Francesca Nand says it's unsurprising the company is still able to dry holidaymakers and freight companies.

"It's a really good route and people's memories are short I think when it comes to this.

"We all say, you know, we're going to boycott something but actually it's a very useful, very frequently traveled route, not just for holidays, but for business as well."

The P&O Ferries vessel Spirit of Britain moored at the Port of Dover in Kent Credit: right

The Department for Transport said,

"We reacted swiftly and decisively against P&O Ferries’ appalling treatment of its staff, setting out a nine-point plan to improve their pay and conditions.

"Having brought forward legislation to ensure seafarers are paid at least an equivalent to the UK National Minimum Wage, and establishing a new statutory code, we are now working with our near European neighbours to further protect their welfare and pay."

A P&O Ferries spokesperson said,

“As a result of major changes we made in the last year, we have saved the business and are serving the needs of our passenger and freight customers better than ever before.

"Through our new operating model we have optimised sailings and invested in our fleet, putting P&O Ferries on a competitive footing again.

“Our business plays a critical role in maintaining supply chains, enabling tourism and supporting UK exports. We are determined to meet our responsibilities to customers by offering the highest value, best-in-class service, now and into the future."