One of the maritime agencies recruiting workers for P&O Ferries is advertising for crew members, saying no previous experience at sea required.
Union officials warn that P&O Ferries could be jeopardising safety after dismissing 800 crew members and replacing them with workers paid less than the minimum wage. One of the firm’s vessels has been detained at Larne in Northern Ireland for being “unfit to sail” because of concerns over training.
One of the companies recruiting for P&O Ferries, CSM Baltics – part of Columbia Shipmanagement, one of the world’s largest ship managers – has posted an ad on Facebook saying: “We are looking for a large number of stewards to work 12 hours day on board our ships and to have rest of 12 hours in hotels in France. No seafarers’ documents are needed, just previous experience in hospitality institutions.”
The ad goes on to say the stewards will work a pattern of eight weeks on and eight weeks off.
P&O Ferries says the agency also recruits for other shipping firms, and that it is not unusual to hire some crew members without previous maritime experience. The firm said all crew members would receive full training before setting sail.
A P&O Ferries spokesperson said: “The safety of our passengers and crew is our foremost priority. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is currently making port state inspections, which includes checking all crew certification.”
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained the P&O ferry European Causeway in Larne on Friday because of “failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training”.
P&O Ferries sacked 800 staff without notice on 17 March and has admitted to breaching employment law by failing to consult with trades unions.
Peter Hebblethwaite, chief executive of P&O Ferries, told MPs last week that the average rate of pay for new crew members would be £5.50 an hour. P&O says the pay rates are in line with international maritime standards.
Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs that he had not personally seen the risk assessment on replacing experienced crews with agency workers before the redundancies.
Darren Procter, national secretary of the RMT union, said he was “appalled” at P&O Ferries replacing entire crews. He said the agency ad for cross-Channel crew without experience raised serious concerns.
He said: “They are cutting corners. It’s not just about training, but having crews who have worked together and are experienced.”
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said it is unacceptable that ferry operators with regular UK routes could pay less than the minimum wage. A new package of measures would be brought before parliament to close a loophole which allows this.
There were protests in Liverpool, Dover and Hull on Saturday against the P&O Ferries sackings. Labour has written to the government asking whether it will seek the removal of Hebblethwaite as a director under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
P&O Ferries services between Dover and Calais and between Larne and Cairnryan in Scotland remain suspended. Services between Hull and Rotterdam are reduced, but ferries between Dublin and Liverpool are back in operation.
A P&O Ferries spokesperson said any suggestion that safety was in any way compromised was “categorically false”. A spokesperson said all its crew members were trained under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.