UK government terminates P&O contract following mass sacking

The British government has ended its contract with company P&O, after their mass sacking of almost 800 workers. Following the decision, P&O will no longer be responsible for contingency travel between Britain and northern France. Though this move is a welcome one, if overdue, much remains to be done to address P&O’s recent actions.

Up until now, P&O has been in agreement with the UK government to provide transport for Border Force staff, should other means of crossing the Channel become unavailable. However, P&O recieved backlash – and rightfully so – when this March, they sacked 786 of their staff without any notice. (More on this here) The move was criminal, of course, as the company had not consulted unions beforehand. P&O’s own chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, admitted as much before a parliamentary committee hearing.

On the termination of this contract, the Home Office stated “In response to P&O Ferries’ unacceptable behaviour, Border Force has terminated its agreement with P&O to provide contingency travel services to juxtaposed ports with immediate effect.” Further to this, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced “We’re reforming maritime law to stop firms exploiting legal loopholes and protect workers’ rights.”

Taking our government’s words in isolation, it would seem they are truly dedicated to the the protection of our employment rights. Of course, as any worker in this country would know, Shapps, the Home Office, and co are blatant hypocrites. They talk about safeguarding us from exploitation, yet only recently passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which, among other things, serves to criminalise noisy and disruptive protests. So if British workers are to speak out against our exploitation, we will find ourselves harrassed by newly empowered police, ones empowered by the same people who label themselves our protectors!

Only recently, three striking refuse workers were arrested on the picket line. Where then was the Home Office’s cries of “unacceptable behaviour”? Nowhere to be found! The three workers were taking part in a GMB strike in Hailsham, East Sussex, when they were taken by police for blocking a scab driver. This is very much an issue of employment rights, as with the P&O sackings, yet this time we see no calls for reform by Shapps or any of his colleagues.

RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, found the government’s decision “an overdue but welcome step. However, despite the Government’s anger and condemnation of the attack on my members’ jobs, P&O continues to pay inexperienced crew well below the minimum wage on contracts that demand dangerously long hours.

“The real solution to the crisis at P&O is for the government to impound P&O’s ships, take these critical maritime services out of the control of DP World and operate them in the public sector. Only then can we guarantee safe ferry services that employ UK resident seafarers on conditions that reflect the UK economy and not shipowners’ insatiable demand for profit.”

Mia English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch

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