P&O Ferries passenger ferries go freight-only – 1,100 staff furloughed

UK transport unions have called on the government to offer financial support for the sector after P&O Ferries temporarily laid off around 1,100 workers.

The company said it was closing passenger services between the UK, Ireland and continental Europe and converting them to freight-only, according to The Loadstar.

The staff would be “furloughed” into the government’s pay scheme whereby they will continue to receive 80% of their salary.

However, their union, the GMB, warned that ferry operators faced the prospect of bankruptcy without further state support.

“P&O carries 15% cent of the goods that arrive into the UK every year, and when they start advising us that they have a problem, we all have a problem. We need to sit up and listen,” says regional organiser, Frank Macklin.

The GMB added that the some 33% of P&O Ferries volumes were perishables, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and called on the UK government to open talks with labour representatives and ferry management “to secure the industry’s future”.

Janette Bell, P&O Ferries chief executive, says: “In the average week we transport 25,000 loads of freight between France and Britain. The Calais-Dover crossing is critical to the economy of the UK, Ireland and the European Union.

“I want to thank every single member of the P&O Ferries team, especially our colleagues in Calais who are keeping the flow of goods moving through this crisis. The wellbeing of millions of people depends on them.

“I urge all governments to back the commitment of our colleagues by designating port staff as key workers to secure further the flow of goods.”

Macklin adds, according to The Loadstar: “GMB is demanding the government get around the table unions and ferry operators to ensure no one is left behind in the effort to keep this industry running while we are in the deep crisis in which we find ourselves.

“They [ferry companies] must be allowed to get on with the job of getting goods to the right place at the right time, instead of having to worry if they will be able to pay their staff’s wages or be in a position to carry on trading. Ministers seem to be lacking when it comes to keeping essential logistics moving.

“It is time this government is held to account for its actions or, in this case, its lack of action,” he says.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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