Sir Keir Starmer has said P&O Ferries “must not be allowed to get away” with the “disgusting” sacking of 800 workers and replacing them with foreign staff.
“It just makes my blood boil,” said the furious Labour leader. “It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting.
“This is a company that had furlough [money] during the Covid crisis. It is absolutely disgusting what they are trying to do. They mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.
In an emergency statement to the House of Commons, transport minister Robert Courts said his department knew on Wednesday (March 18) evening about P&O’s plan.
Courts told MPs that P&O’s handling of the redundancies is “completely unacceptable and that he was “extremely concerned and frankly angry” at the treatment of the workers.
Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said he did not believe the redundancies were discussed during the PM’s visit to the UAE on Wednesday, despite P&O Ferries being owned by Dubai-based DP World. The announcement came only hours after Johnson’s visit to the region, seeking an increase in oil production to make up for losses resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
P&O Ferries sack 800 staff by video message
P&O Ferries staff were told they were being sacked “with immediate effect” by a video message before security personnel were sent to ships to remove them. Workers on ships in Larne, Dover and Hull barricaded themselves onboard. On the docks, foreign staff waited in buses to replace them.
Meanwhile, P&O ferries cancelled all sailings for the next week at least and advised those with tickets to seek alternative routes.
The owners of P&O Ferries is the ports and cargo logistics company DP World which is 80% owned by the government of Dubai. It has not commented on the redundancies but P&O Ferries said it had lost £100 million in the last year “which has been covered by our parent company”, adding: “This is not sustainable.”
DP World bought P&O Ferries just three years ago for £322m – having sold the company ten years earlier. DP World said it has not received a dividend from P&O Ferries. Last week DP World proposed a £210 million dividend for shareholders following strong profits in 2021.
The Guardian reports: “DP World last year agreed to sponsor the European golf tour – at a cost of £147m” while the Telegraph reports the “ruler of Dubai is locked in a battle with one of Britain’s most militant trade unions” after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s government sacked 800 P&O Ferries workers, many of which are RMT members.
‘P&O debacle undermines Brexit lie’
After Courts’ emergency statement to the Commons, MPs from all benches called for P&O to be forced to pay back the money it took from the government during the pandemic, including £10 million of furlough payments. Conservative MP Peter Bone called on Courts to suspend P&O Ferries’ licences (having stressed they are not connected to P&O Cruises).
Journalist Otto English tweeted that his first thought is for the 800 people sacked and his “second is ‘we’re an island and this is the biggest ferry provider.’” Later he added: “One of the key selling points of Brexit was that ‘no longer’ would cheap foreign labour undercut British workers. The P&O debacle totally undermines that lie doesn’t it.”
‘Cowardly’ govt blocked fire-and-rehire law
In October last year Johnson’s government was accused of being “cowardly” after blocking a law to make it more difficult for businesses to “fire-and-rehire” – on worse pay and conditions – their staff.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s private members bill was “talked out” following the government’s opposition. A spokesperson for the PM at the time called fire-and-rehire “completely unacceptable as a [redundancies] negotiating tactic”, but added: “However, there is insufficient evidence to show legislation will stop the practice or will be effective.”