P&O Ferries betray our proud nation of seafarers; now Tories must cut ‘freeport’ ties with Dubai-owned DP World – Louise Haigh
Over the last few days I have heard directly from staff who are bewildered and angry about the way they have been treated. Overnight their lives have been upended, their livelihoods scrapped and they’re left wondering how they will put food on the table and pay their bills.
This was not a corporate restructure by P&O and this is not how we do business in Britain. These are the actions of thugs and it’s a scandal that this Dubai-owned company DP World, which received millions of pounds in British taxpayers’ money during the pandemic, has, without consultation or notice, upended the lives of hard-working people.
Instead of turning up to work and carrying out their jobs, staff are left on the picket lines in Hull, Dover and Liverpool, demonstrating against mass redundancies.
These redundancies are an even more bitter pill to swallow as we know that the profits of DP World, the company that owns P&O Ferries, soared by 52 per cent in the first half of 2021. They are making profits while treating their staff like dirt.
In the House of Commons, the Shipping Minister Robert Courts confirmed that Ministers became aware of the decisions by P&O Ferries the evening before they made their appalling announcement to staff. This raises even more questions than it answers.
Why did the Government not act at that point to persuade P&O to change course, to find out if these sackings were illegal and if there was anything they could do to stop P&O? It very much seems they sat back and took absolutely no action or even interest while this grave injustice was looming.
What we needed to see from this Conservative Government was unequivocal action. P&O need to know they cannot sack British workers who are in secure jobs at the drop of a hat and replace them with agency workers.
The Government should not be giving the green light to such appalling practices and needs to take urgent action to secure the jobs of these workers. It should not be laying down, accepting this and signposting workers to the Department for Work and Pensions, as the Minister suggested in Parliament.
But the problem is the Tories are up to their neck in this Dubai-based company – they’ve been handed lucrative contracts with freeports and influential seats on Government boards.
This cannot be allowed to stand. I’ve written to the Prime Minister urgently to call on him to suspend all contracts and licences of P&O Ferries’ owner DP World until this matter is resolved and for the company to be removed from all positions in Government.
They should not have a place at the table, trying to influence Government, when they treat their British workers with such appalling contempt.
The Government must use every tool at its disposal as leverage over this despicable company and should claw back every last penny given to P&O to support them through the pandemic.
This money was given to support businesses through a time of world turmoil and this is not how you repay such support.
For too long this Tory Government has chosen to sit on its hands and side with bad bosses instead of standing up for workers and their rights. They have failed to take action to outlaw fire and rehire and this is the cruel consequences of a decade of attacks on workers’ rights.
Last year, the Conservatives blocked Labour’s plans to ban the unethical practice of fire and rehire and even now the Government is trying to wriggle out on a technicality, claiming that the fired P&O workers are not being rehired but replaced.
The time for excuses is over – we must now see action from this Government. Ministers must keep their promises they have made, deliver for workers’ rights and once and for all outlaw fire-and-rehire practices.
This must be a line in the sand – never again can a company operate in Britain and think they can treat workers like this with total impunity. The British people will not stand for it and we must take action now to prevent it ever happening again.
It will be the driving mission of the next Labour government to end the poverty wages and insecure work that blights millions of lives. Labour will make Britain work for working people.
For now, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with workers. We are a proud seafaring nation – which is the envy of the world and the action that P&O has taken is a straightforward assault on British seafaring. I’m calling on the Government to stand with Labour and these proud workers and take action to protect their livelihoods.
Louise Haigh is the Shadow Transport Secretary and Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley.
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