Several demonstrations are set to take place on Friday (March 18) in response to P&O Ferries “appalling” decision to sack 800 seafarers. The company blamed the move on losses of £100 million during the coronavirus pandemic.
Both unions and politicians have condemned the move, while the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) is seeking legal advice in order to challenge the sackings. It described the move as one of the most “vicious example of despotic employer behaviour”.
The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, announced the sackings on Thursday. It insisted the cuts were “very difficult, but necessary” as the business wasn’t currently “viable”. The 800 employees were sacked immediately without notice, so they can be replaced by cheaper labour, HullLive reports.
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The union has called for mass trade union and wider public support for demonstrations in Dover, Liverpool and Hull on Friday.
In a message to its members, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It was with deep shock that I learned the news of the wholesale job cuts taking place at P&O Ferries, but I am sure that my shock was nothing as compared to the devastation this news brought to you and your colleagues.
“P&O’s decision to lay off 800 workers is a kick in the teeth to the hard-working members of staff who have kept the business running through the global health crisis. The RMT has received reports that security guards at Dover have boarded ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour.This union is horrified that P&O Ferries can treat their loyal workforce in such a despicable manner.
“P&O Ferries claimed almost £15 million in Government grants in 2020, which included furlough payments for its employees. P&O is owned by DP World, the multi-national ports and logistics company based in Dubai. It paid a £270 million dividend to shareholders in 2020.
“This appalling situation has arisen as a result of DP World wishing to maximize their profits and the failure of the Government to intervene and protect the jobs of you and your colleagues. Your union is seeking advice on what legal action can be taken.”
Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said P&O had made “an appalling error”. He added: “If they do not reverse immediately and reinstate the employees and follow proper process, it’s hard to see a way back for them commercially.”
“The parent DP World needs to understand that the British public will not do business with companies who treat their employees with such contempt.”
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “This is not a corporate restructure. It’s not the way we go about business in this country. It is beneath contempt; the action of thugs.”
A P&O Ferries statement read: “We have made a £100 million loss year-on-year, which has been covered by our parent, DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.