At 11:10 on Thursday (March 17), 800 workers at P&O Ferries were told they would be made redundant with immediate effect. Informed over video, staff discovered the company’s plan to replace them with cheap outsourced labour. Within hours, now former employees found themselves being directed off of ships by “handcuff-trained” private security enforcers.
P&O Ferries tried to explain away today’s announcement, citing the unsustainability of its current business model, with millions of pounds in yearly losses. This means nothing, of course, in respect to P&O Ferries’ parent company DP World, which saw a revenue increase of 26.3% last year to (USD) $10.77 billion a year. Nor does it justify the suddenness of these sackings, about which there was no clear explanation of redundancy pay save mention of a “generous severance package”.
Such “generous” offering does not make up for the cruelty of taking 800 jobs without warning. Such a move provides no time for staff to prepare, nor for unions to negotiate with bosses or launch a campaign of action. General Secretary of union Nautilus International, Mark Dickinson, said: “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking the crew across its entire UK fleet is a betrayal of British workers. It is nothing short of scandalous, given that this Dubai-owned company received British taxpayers’ money during the pandemic”.
The British government gave the company over £4.3 million in 2020, as part of the Covid-19 PSO freight scheme subsidy. As well as this, DP World owns London Gateway port, which just so happens to be one of two ports in Thames Freeport – the first of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s beloved freeports to have been established by the government last year. Such ports benefit from certain tax exemptions due to their status in British law.
RMT National Secretary, Darren Procter, shared their criticisms on Radio 5 Live: “We head down to Dover where the bulk of our membership is, and where the vessels were tying up, and on the way down we were informed that there were coaches with individuals onboard with security staff, and they were looking to replace the staff without any kind of consultation and dialogue with the trade unions, or anybody for that matter…
“The company is not only looking to bring in workers, but looking to bring in security staff who’ve had handcuff training. And this is how they expect to treat their staff who put up any resistance to not got get off the vessels, you know, they think they’re gonna manhandle them.”
Many staff took action following the announcement. In Hull, staff refused to leave their ship, with captain of the Pride of Hull raising the gangway for multiple hours. In Dover, workers blocked the streets in protest. An employee of nine years recounted to BBC how in Larne, security came aboard to ensure all staff left, saying: “We went through a lot over the last two years with the pandemic and all that kind of stuff, but didn’t think it would end like this.”
The YCL stands entirely against this affront to workers’ rights by P&O. No one should face risk of redundancy at a moment’s notice. Nor should we be deemed replaceable the second a cheaper alternative comes around. Never again should private enforcers be deployed to harass and intimidate workers. Such changes won’t come from a government in bed with the very corporations who wage this war on their employees. Only workers – unionised, organised, mobilised – can make the change, and consign these barbaric tactics to the dustbin of history.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch