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MPs express horror and rage at P&O layoffs

17 March 2022

There were fiery speeches in Parliament on Thursday as MPs from across party lines expressed their anger at the actions of P&O Ferries, which sacked its entire UK crew without warning and sought to replace them with agency staff.

Shipping Minister Robert Courts MP made a Parliamentary statement on the sackings, saying that the way workers had been treated was 'wholly unacceptable'.

'These are hardworking, dedicated staff who have given years in service to P&O. The way they have been treated is wholly unacceptable and my thoughts are first and foremost with them,' he said.

'Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships with immediate effect while being told cheaper alternatives would take up their roles shows the insensitive way in which P&O have approached this issue, a point I have made crystal clear to P&O’s management when I spoke to them.'

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh called P&O's actions 'an assault on British seafaring' and the manner of their sacking a 'national scandal'. She highlighted videos of handcuff-trained security staff, some wearing balaclavas, trying to remove workers from ships and said it was 'beneath contempt – the action of thugs'.

Ms Haigh asked whether the government would terminate contracts held by P&O's parent company DP Word to run two freeports, and further asked if the government will recover Covid bailout money given to P&O.

'I have heard directly from the crew throughout the day - their lives upended. The jobs they depended on, scrapped. Workers are now left wondering how on earth they will put food on their family’s table, and the management did not even have the decency to tell them face-to-face,' she said.

'It is quite simply a scandal that this overseas-owned company – which received millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, have upended the lives of 800 British workers overnight. All while the profits of their owners, DP World, soared by 52% in the first half of 2021.

'No ifs, no buts – an overseas conglomerate cannot be given free rein to sack workers in secure jobs here in Britain at the click of a button and replace them with agency staff.'

There was further strong criticism from Labour MPs, with Barry Gardiner pointing out that P&O have a £146m deficit in their pension fund but their parent company spent £147m sponsoring a golf tournament. Dame Diana Johnson called on the government to demand that P&O Ferries reinstate the seafarers who have been made redundant. Karyn Smith asked that Mr Courts make clear what the government's response will be.

There was even condemnation from Conservative Party MPs Sir John Hayes and Peter Bone, who asked for the government to claw back money given to the company and said that the 'free market' was no excuse to turn the clock back to Victorian times on labour rights.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: 'I’m deeply concerned at P&O announcement - due to the importance to Scotland of the Cairnryan/Larne route obviously, but also the impact on 100s of workers. Fire & rehire is an appalling practice & offends the basic principle of fair work. I have just spoken directly to the CEO of P&O and made clear my utter disgust at this appalling treatment of its workers. I made clear that @scotgov stands with these workers and will do everything possible to ensure fair treatment for them.'

MPs in Westminster also questioned whether the government had prior knowledge of P&O’s actions. The Secretary of State is required to be notified if a company lays off more than 20 workers, at least 45 days in advance if making more than 100 redundant.

A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed to the BBC that the government had not been given any notice of the action, saying it did not agree with the so-called fire and rehire practice of sacking workers and re-employing them on different terms, adding it would be ‘dismayed’ if that was the intention of P&O.

P&O's parent company, DP World, is owned by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates via a holding company. This holding company is under the direct control of the absolute ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.


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