The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said its inspectors were denied the ability to conduct welfare checks for replacement crew members on board P&O Ferries in the Port of Dover.
The checks come after P&O Ferries, which is owned by Dubai-based DP World, abruptly fired some 800 UK-based ferry workers last month and replaced them with cheaper labor. The decision has raised some legal questions considering P&O Ferries did not notify the British government or worker unions of the sackings. Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has since detained at least three P&O Ferries vessels over deficiences.
The ITF said the welfare checks were prompted after issues were raised by some replacement crew members. But the union group said Port Police refused the inspectors access to the port on the basis that the had no advanced notice of the inspector’s visit.
ITF Inspectors have ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) code clearance, which allows them to enter all UK ports and board all vessels in UK waters where seafarers request assistance, the ITF asserterted in a statement.
“Despite emailing ahead of time as a courtesy and completing the online security course required, the Port Police refused the inspectors access on the day, on the basis that they had no advance warning of the inspectors’ visit. The inspectors are not obliged to provide prior warning to ports or vessel owners of impending visits to inspect vessels or investigate abuse of seafarers’ rights,” the ITF statement said.
“As an ITF Inspector in the UK for 17 years this is the first time I have been refused access to a UK port to investigate crew welfare issues,” said ITF inspector Tommy Molloy.
“Experience shows us that if non-compliant employers are tipped off to our inspections, often crew members get threatened and incriminating documentation goes missing. Our inspections are random by nature and by necessity,” Molloy added.
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said: “P&O Ferries have shown that they have no regard for the law, it’s staggering that the Port of Dover would prevent access to ITF Inspectors who are simply there to check on crew welfare and the safety of the ships.”
“ITF Inspectors across the world are at the frontline of protecting safety standards for seafarers and the vessels they crew. We have grave reservations about why they would be denied access, especially following MCA detentions related to safety concerns and crew familiarity of the vessels.”
“We call on the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to find answers as to why our inspectors were blocked, and give a commitment that it won’t happen again,” said Cotton.
The ITF said it has notified the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency about the incident as a violation of the ISPS Code, and both the ITF and Nautilus International, the union representing some of the fired workers, are calling on the UK government to intervene.