Labour calls on Government to start 'criminal action' against P&O Ferries after redundancies

Labour have called on the Government to launch “criminal action” against P&O Ferries following the sacking of 800 workers last week.

Seafarers will be replaced by new crew being paid as little as £1.81 an hour, unions have said, as they called on Ministers to make sure that the “ships of shame” do not sail.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh told the House of Commons that the company should be held to account for their “flagrant breach of employment law”, and also suggested that officials were aware of the P&O “game plan” ahead of time.

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Addressing Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Ms Haigh asked: “What have cabinet ministers actually managed to do? They have written a strongly-worded letter to the wrong person, and signposted workers to the job centre.

A protest by unions outside the Houses of Parliament, London, over P&O Ferries handing 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week.

“The central calculation of DP World (P&O’s parent company), that this Government would not lift a finger to stop them, has so far been proven right.”

She added: “The Government must start by immediately commencing criminal action against P&O Ferries for their flagrant breach of employment law. It should mean unlimited fines not only for the company but for directors and managers or any of those who are complicit.

“It is in the gift of the Business Secretary under the 1992 Trade Union Act to begin that action and he must do it now. If he won’t he must explain to the public why he will not act to protect British workers.”

A number of sacked P&O staff were in Parliament’s public gallery to hear the debate yesterday afternoon, after a protest in Westminster earlier in the day.

Ms Haigh also used the time to tell colleagues about a memo circulated last week, which she said was “no vague outline” about what P&O intended to do.

“It was the game plan of P&O and I can reveal to the House it not only makes clear that the Government was made aware that 800 seafarers were to be sacked, it explicitly endorses the thuggish fire and rehire tactics that P&O had clearly discussed with the department ahead of Thursday.

“There is no indication, nothing in this memo at all that expresses any concern, any opposition, raises any alarm about the sacking of 800 loyal British workers.

“This is the clearest proof that the Government’s first instinct was to do absolutely nothing.”

Mr Shapps said that “The first I heard about it was at 8.30pm [on Wednesday] evening, not through the memo which I did not see, but instead through communication with my private office to indicate that P&O would be making redundancies the next day.”

Unions have claimed that the fired crew were being replaced by staff who will be paid just £1.81 an hour, in “another gut-wrenching betrayal” of those who have lost their jobs,

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which represented many of the 800 staff fired without notice last week, said their replacements are being paid well below the minimum wage in the UK.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid 2.38 dollars an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked.

“The rule of law and acceptable norms of decent employment and behaviour have completely broken down beneath the white cliffs of Dover and in other ports, yet five days into this national crisis the Government has done nothing to stop it.

“These ships of shame must not be allowed to sail. The Government has to step in now and take control before it’s too late.”

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour. But companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages.