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Two years on – still fighting P&O sackings

27 March 2024

Nautilus and RMT members continue their campaign outside Parliament, London, 20 March. Photo Workers.

P&O Ferry workers are continuing to protest against the notorious sacking and re-hiring scandal. Members of the RMT and Nautilus unions held a rally outside Parliament on Wednesday 20 March calling for action.

Two years ago P&O Ferries sacked 786 ferry crew without warning and immediately replaced them with lower paid agency workers. Union members across Britain and elsewhere were appalled and reacted with demonstrations and rallies.

Empty promises

At the time government minister Grant Shapps shed crocodile tears, promising legislation to ensure it could never happen again. Yet there are still no mandatory regulations in place.

Martin Gray of Nautilus told the rally that his members were “discarded like dirt”. He said that the Seafarers’ Wages Act and voluntary Seafarers’ Welfare Charter brought in by the government lack sufficient legislative backing to address exploitation in the industry.


The International Transport Workers’ Federation is the international union representing seafarers. It has called for a mandatory charter and stronger employment laws to prevent a repetition of the P&O sackings.

The view of the TUC and unions is that P&O broke the law in several respects and exploited loopholes to cover its actions. P&O management have been let off the hook.

After the sackings, RMT launched a campaign, Fair Ferries. The aim is to look at the whole sector and monitor progress, or the lack of it, on the government’s promises.

Safety risks

Government inaction means ferry crews are as vulnerable as ever. It’s not just about pay and conditions. The shipowners risk safety with less skilled crews and poor conditions.

Only two weeks before the rally, RMT marked the anniversary of the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise disaster which took the lives of 193 passengers and crew. Poor operational practices and crew fatigue were found to be major contributors to the sinking.

Labour Party politicians have promised action if they enter government. But while that is welcome, it can’t be relied on. Ferry crews need to continue their fight – for justice over the P&O sackings and for enforceable laws. In the end that may mean action against their employers.

The unions have set up an online petition anyone can sign. It calls on current and future governments to take actions to prevent a repeat of the P&O sackings – including a mandatory seafarers’ charter; closing legal loopholes; a New Deal for Seafarers; fair pay agreements on international ferry routes; and outlawing fire and rehire (an issue for other industries too).