I have held talks with P&O Ferries’ chief executive and trade union leaders in a bid to safeguard hundreds of local jobs.
Despite furloughing some 1,100 staff, the ferry firm is reported as “battling for survival” and to have asked the Government for £150 million of financial support. Worries deepened last week with reports that a P&O Liverpool to Dublin service was prevented from leaving the English port amid a payment row.
P&O have cited a plunge in revenue from passenger services and reduced freight resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Unions have voiced concerns that the crisis should not be used to force through unreasonable changes to workers’ terms and conditions.
In March, I called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons to give assistance to ferry companies. Over the last week, I have held talks with company management and unions to both help secure the backing the company is seeking and to save local jobs.
The cross-Channel ferry route will always play a massive and vital role in the nation’s trade. Over the last few weeks I have been making the case to Government to look carefully at what is needed to ensure the Port of Dover, ferry companies and hauliers in our area gets through this crisis so that they can continue to provide the good, medicines and resources we need as a nation. Dover is a key part of the vital national effort to defeat the virus. Dover will continue to play that vital role over the weeks and months ahead.
P&O is already receiving taxpayer support through the Chancellor’s furlough scheme and the company are asking for substantial further financial support from Government. With taxpayer support must come a commitment to British jobs more generally, and to our Dover-Calais route in particular.
I don’t think now is the right time to be forcing through contentious work terms, but for everyone to hold their nerve and to negotiate at the right time after the immediate crisis over. In that way, unions and ferry company alike can secure the future success of the short sea route and the best possible terms for our local workers.