two years later and workers and public still at risk

  • Post last modified:March 18, 2024
  • Reading time:6 mins read

Two year ago, shipping firm P&O Ferries sacked nearly 800 of its workers without notice – and replaced them with agency staff. At the time, the government and public were outraged. However, 24 months after the incident trade unions are warning that the Tories have “done nothing” to stop bosses doing the same thing again – with Mick Lynch saying the perpetrators have gone ‘unpunished’.

P&O Ferries: two years later

On 17 March 2022, P&O Ferries sacked 786 workers without notice. A video message told them:

I am sorry to inform you that your employment is terminated with immediate effect . . . your final day of employment is today.

In addition to the shameful way that P&O Ferries treated its workforce, there were four flagrant breaches of law by P&O Ferries which have gone unpunished:

  • The duty to consult when making collective redundancies.
  • Unfair dismissal of workers.
  • Failure to notify the relevant government authorities.
  • Breach of Director duties.

Furthermore, P&O Ferries exploited loopholes in the minimum wage legislation to pay replacement agency worker crew as little as £5.15 per hour. Moreover, it failed to comply with international health and safety standards, jeopardising the safety of seafarers, passengers, and the maritime industry as a whole.

At the time, Tory ministers were outraged – with the then-transport secretary Grant Shapps calling on P&O’s boss to quit. However, since then the government has done nothing to avert another worker catastrophe like the P&O one.

The Tories have ‘done nothing’ since

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), international trade union Nautilus, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) issued a joint statement on the two year anniversary of the mass sacking. It warned about the prospect of another P&O Ferries scandal as a result of government failures on workers’ rights.

In the joint statement, they warn another P&O Ferries scandal is on the cards as a result of government inaction:

Two years have since passed – but the government has done nothing to stop another P&O Ferries scandal.

Despite admitting to acting illegally, P&O Ferries have faced no sanctions and have seemingly been let off the hook.

The unions say ministers have failed to act:

Having feigned outrage at P&O Ferries’ actions, ministers have reneged on their promise to clamp down on bad bosses, failed to deliver an Employment Bill and failed to close the legal loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries.

And the paltry reforms that they have pushed forward fall far short of what’s needed. P&O Ferries priced-in the illegal mass sacking of hundreds of seafarers. Their bosses at DP World sanctioned the breaking of UK law and could afford to do so.

The government’s feeble code of practice on fire and rehire only makes breaking the law a bit more expensive, which will do nothing to deter deep-pocketed rogue employers.

And their much-trumpeted seafarers’ welfare charter isn’t mandatory – so bad employers can just ignore it, safe in the knowledge they will face zero consequences.

A “mandatory seafarers’ charter”

They call for a mandatory seafarers’ charter as well as stronger workers’ rights across the board:

This is why we need an Employment Act, such as a New Deal for Working People – like Labour is proposing – to ensure that everybody is treated with dignity and respect in a safe workplace.

It is welcome that Labour have already responded to the P&O Ferries’ sackings by committing to a mandatory seafarers’ charter to protect seafarer’s employment and conditions. That charter, including provisions for a fair pay agreement as envisaged in the New Deal, would be a gamechanger.

To prevent another P&O Ferries we need that commitment introduced as soon as possible.

It would help to level the playing field for good employers while supporting quality seafarer employment.

For too long parts of our labour market have been like the wild west – with many seafarers particularly exposed to hyper-exploitation and a lack of enforceable rights and unsafe employment conditions.

It’s time to drag our outdated employment laws into the 21st century. Without this, another P&O Ferries scandal is on the cards.

P&O: Tories left the perpetrators “unpunished”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said:

The Conservative Party are the P&O party.

What happened at P&O Ferries two years ago was a national scandal. It should have marked a new chapter in workers’ rights.

But Tory ministers sat on their hands. And the reforms they are bringing in – like the code of practice on fire and rehire – aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said:

In the two years since P&O Ferries’ shocking attack on 786 seafarers’ jobs, the Conservative Government has completely failed to punish the perpetrators or even close the legal loopholes that were exploited and priced up by P&O’s wealthy owners in Dubai.

We need a mandatory Seafarers Charter as part of a new deal for workers, with fair pay agreements at the heart of a revival of Ratings jobs and skills in the UK maritime industry, including on international ferries and in the offshore energy supply chain, both of which are critical elements of our future economic security.

RMT will continue to fight tooth and nail for stronger seafarer rights through employment law reform, sorting out the impotent Insolvency Service, an end to all forms of discrimination against seafarers, safer working practices, excluding DP World from taxpayer support and scrapping all anti-trade union laws.

Featured image via the Canary

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