P&O bosses hide behind a system the government defends

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23 March 2022

When P&O Ferries announced last Friday - by video - that the entirety of its on-board crews were fired with immediate effect, even Tory MPs denounced them. In Hull, 142 crew barricaded themselves onto their ship and refused to leave.  Security guards dangling handcuffs were sent to remove them by force.  P&O had bus-loads of agency workers waiting on the docks from Hull to Dover to Liverpool and Cairnryan, ready to take their place.

    Of course it was shocking.  But it's not the mass-sacking that ministers had a problem with, merely the way it was carried out.  Transport Secretary Grant Shapps criticised P&O for their "cynical approach" to the redundancies, and ministers wondered aloud whether the move was "illegal".

    However P&O owner, DP World, claims it followed the law. It told the government beforehand and has paid redundancy pay.  And anyway, it says, the crews weren't even employed by a British company.  Their ships are all registered overseas, meaning crews aren't employed "in Britain" and thus aren’t protected by “British law” (for what that’s worth!)

    As for Johnson, while saying that his government defends the rights of British workers in British waters, what this means is that anyone working outside of British waters, no matter what their nationality, remains “unprotected”....

P&O says it lost £200m in the last 2 years.  But owner DP World made profits of £3 billion in 2021 and still has a Brexit-benefit contract with Johnson’s government to develop the Thames Freeport for £50m!

One Tory MP complained peevishly that P&Os action wasn’t even to “fire and rehire”, as the crews weren’t “even” given the choice of signing new contracts at a lower wage! Yes, indeed.  But thanks to Johnson’s government even “fire and rehire” remains perfectly legal.  And it’s been carried out with impunity by British Airways, British Gas, Weetabix, and Tesco among many others...

What’s more, as all agency workers would confirm, being fired and rehired without notice is one of their only “rights” these days!  And this is what’s really at issue.  The utter degradation of workers’ employment conditions, as the casualisation of employment has more and more become the “legal” norm.

So what is to be done?  In fact, restoring decent jobs, wages and conditions is something that only the working class and its organisations can reliably carry out.  And if today’s union leaderships are incapable of organising the kind of fight back needed to impose this, then it’s up to the rest of us on the ground to begin this very urgent task!