Blog: A Future Our Maritime Professionals Can Believe In

The outrageous action by P&O Ferries in illegally dismissing 786 hard-working and dedicated maritime professionals was a dark day for the UK maritime industry. By their ill-conceived, narrow minded actions, P&O Ferries has severely damaged this nation’s maritime strategy, Maritime 2050. In the words of former Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani: “This decision by P&O Ferries has the devastating potential to turn our talented young people off a career at sea.”

There must be strong action to ensure P&O Ferries is held fully accountable for its flouting of the law, and we must rebuild trust in Maritime 2050 and the actions and the strategies that the industry has developed to deliver this vision for the maritime sector in the UK.

Of course, the government must also act to ensure that UK employment legislation offers meaningful protection to all workers – good, sustainable businesses have demonstrated they want that too. Employers cannot be allowed to buy their way out of complying with the law. But P&O Ferries has shone a light on many aspects of the shipping industry that have long needed to be addressed to ensure that our industry is fit for the future and meets the aspirations of our talented young people.

The actions of P&O Ferries have exacerbated the ongoing race to the bottom, not least in the ferry sector. Destructive competition like this must be arrested if we are to attract talent to maritime, if we are to provide hope to our coastal communities and demonstrate to our young people, that there are training opportunities, good jobs and career fulfilment in shipping and the wider maritime industry.

To that end, Nautilus has been working with other industry stakeholders to develop a Fair Ferries Framework Agreement as part of ongoing work for a shipping industry based on fairness and opportunity for all. This agreement, developed in response to the Secretary of State’s nine-point package of measures to address the fallout from the P&O Ferries sackings, would create a sustainable ferry industry based on a genuine level playing field, one that encourages a race to the top in terms of standards not a continuation of the disastrous race to the bottom.

Our Fair Ferries strategy would invite companies to work with Nautilus to ensure decent pay and conditions for all crew regardless of nationality, codifying social conditions and employment standards that reflect local conditions, more appropriate to UK and Intra-European ferry routes, and not international minimums of the kind introduced by too many operators – not least Irish Ferries and now P&O Ferries.

This will prevent exploitation, eradicate social dumping, and create the opportunity for local jobs.

The maritime profession is highly skilled, and seafarers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  The ambition to ensure seafarers receive fair pay and decent conditions needs to be matched with equal ambition in the transition to cleaner, more renewable technology in building a sustainable maritime industry fit for the future. The maritime professionals of today will need to be reskilled and supported to continuously upgrade their professional capabilities so that they are ready to respond to the challenges of the future.

The government’s ‘Clean Maritime Growth Plan’ charts an ambitious course for the UK to lead the way in green maritime innovation, this is an admirable ambition. It is our view that businesses must show their commitment to training as a prerequisite for receiving government funding. To support jobs, it is necessary that government ensures businesses and innovators are incentivised to re-train and employ British seafarers. We cannot innovate and be a world leader in maritime technology without the people to operate modern systems.

Maritime 2050 sets out an ambitious roadmap for the future of our industry, but the government and industry, including social partners, must push forward to make these ambitions a reality and create a future that our maritime professionals can believe in.