Friday 1 April 2022
We are all appalled at the behaviour of the management of P&O Ferries in dismissing their entire workforce and replacing them with agency workers being paid well below the minimum wage. Its chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite has even admitted in front of a parliamentary committee that P&O Ferries was in breach of UK employment law for sacking its staff without consultation.
P&O Ferries cannot benefit from the action it has taken and the government is doing all that it can to ensure this is the case. The Department for Transport has referred Peter Hebblethwaite to the Insolvency Service which has the power to disqualify him from being a company director in the UK. P&O believe that because they have registered their ferries, like the Pride of Kent overseas that they need only pay their crews the UK national minimum wage whilst they are in our territorial waters. However, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has now opened negotiations with the French government to introduce new requirements that all staff who work on the cross-channel ferry routes should be paid at least at the level of the minimum wage.
I share the concerns that many people have raised with me about the safety of ferries operating in the English Channel, with newly recruited agency staff, many of whom may have little or no experience of working in these conditions. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has already intervened to stop two P&O ferries sailing from Dover because it did not believe they were operating within the required safety standards. On Thursday in the House of Commons I asked Grant Shapps to ensure that the agency remain vigilant in its supervision of P&O Ferries.
The government is being proactive in dealing with the practical consequences of P&O’s redundancies by providing support to the seafarers affected. A new Maritime Skills Portal has been launched by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to connect those affected by the redundancy with opportunities to apply their skills to new jobs in the transport sector. This is in addition to the DWP specialist rapid response service providing support at the local Job Centre Plus.
Last Friday I was delighted to attend the official opening of the Folkestone 51 (F51) Skate Park in Tontine Street. This long-awaited £17 million development marks a new era for this part of the town; attracting talent from afar as well as investing in the young people growing up in the constituency, who will be able to benefit from £1 per month membership through their schools. In addition to the international standard multi-story skate park, the first of its kind in the world, the site is also the new home of Folkestone Amateur Boxing Club and provides the tallest climbing wall in the South East of England, featuring 15m high walls, overhanging roof sections, and 350 square metres of climbing surface! My thanks go to Jenner Construction, Guy Holloway Architects, and, most importantly, the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust who have made this possible. Hopefully we will see some future Olympians developing their skills here as well as providing the opportunity for many more people to enjoy their sport in these amazing new facilities.