'Blockade' of Portsmouth International Port planned over treatment of Condor Ferries workers

PROTESTERS plan to ‘blockade’ Portsmouth International Port over Condor Ferries’ treatment of workers following a rally at the port against P&O Ferries.

Friday, 1st April 2022, 1:19 pm
Updated Friday, 1st April 2022, 5:15 pm

Dozens of membes of the the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) attended the protest at the port, showing solidarity with similar rallies against P&O ferries held in Dover, Hull, and Liverpool.

With protesters chanting demands for better pay and ‘safe ships’ for workers, the rallies are calling for stronger employment laws and better business practises after the recent P&O Ferries scandal, which saw 800 staff sacked without notice via an online video.

Now the union is planning a ‘blockade’ of the city’s port during the upcoming Easter weekend, highlighting concerns about low pay and poor conditions for workers on board Condor Ferries services, which runs services from Portsmouth to Guernsey and Jersey.

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People take part in a demonstration at the Portsmouth International Port after P&O Ferries sacked 800 seafarers without notice on March 17, amid plans to bring in cheaper agency staff. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Since 2018, the union has campaigned for better treatment for Condor Ferry workers, highlighting Ukrainian seafarers being paid as little as £2.46 per hour for a 12-hour working day.

Darren Procter, the union’s national secretary and a former maritime worker, said: ‘The moral compass of everyone connected to this port has allowed seafarers to be employed with no pension, with poor terms and conditions, and this has become the norm in the ferry sector.

‘We’re going to ensure every ferry operator operates fair and safe ferries.

He added: ‘We’d be looking to stop the traffic coming into (the port), identifying to the hauliers coming through, to the passengers coming through, that there is a choice to be made. You travel with a safe ferry operator who treats seafarers with dignity and respect or you have seafarers onboard who are fatigued because of poor employment conditions.’

People take part in a demonstration at the Portsmouth International Port after P&O Ferries sacked 800 seafarers without notice on March 17, amid plans to bring in cheaper agency staff. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The union leader also called on the council – as the port’s owner – to take action against Condor Ferries.

But the law ties the hands of the local authority, according to Portsmouth City Council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

The Liberal Democrat politician said: ‘As a port, we have to be open to everyone. Legally we are not allowed to (bar ferry providers).

‘I had a talk with Condor about what they do.

‘I am happy to look to see what they doing and speak to both them and the union.

‘I’m sure there is a common sense solution.’

Condor Ferries was approached for comment.

Following the P&O sackings, RMT union reps in the city are concerned that the ‘callous’ business practices could come to the city, as P&O Ferries owner DP World looks to expand into the port as part of the Solent Free Port bid.

RMT Wessex regional organiser Geoff Kite said: ‘We have got 800 workers just sacked on the spot on Zoom. It was a callous way of acting. They should have consulted and found a better way of handling the situation.

‘The strength of the feeling across the whole country is absolutely massive.

‘Every event has been well attended and well supported.

‘If DP World set up here we need to make sure that we have employment protection for all workers.’

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Under the free port proposals, Portsmouth International Port would become a custom site while the Dunsbury Park business centre, which is owned by the city council, would become a low-tax site.

P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite has admitted to MPs that the decision to sack 800 workers without notice broke the law, and the ferry firm has pledged to make changes to services deemed unfit to sail.

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