Mass layoffs of UK P&O Ferries crew outrage unions
LONDON (AP) — Unions demonstrated at British ports on Friday, demanding government action to save jobs and protect key trade routes after major ferry operator P&O Ferries laid off 800 British crew members to replace them. by less expensive contract staff.
P&O has canceled all of its ferry crossings between Britain and mainland Europe, threatening to disrupt the flow of people and goods across the English Channel and the North Sea for days.
The UK government expressed outrage at the mass layoffs – carried out via the Zoom message – but suggested there was little it could do to reverse them. The staff cuts came after P&O received millions in UK government aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was shocked and appalled by P&O’s “insensitive and brutal treatment of its employees”.
At a Conservative party meeting in Blackpool, northwest England, Shapps said he was ‘looking into whether there were any contracts the government might have with P&O’ which could be used to make pressure on the company.
Unions have accused the Conservative government of being too light on big business. Gordon Martin of the transport union RMT accused the government of crying ‘conservative crocodile tears’ and said weak UK labor laws allowed ‘rogue capitalism’ to spread.
Unions have long opposed “fire and rehire” policies that allow companies to lay off staff and rehire them under worse conditions. Under UK labor laws, such extreme action should only be taken after full consultation with staff.
“We don’t believe this is the case for P&O staff, but we are looking at this very carefully,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain said.
He said it was “too early to be definitive” about whether P&O breached labor laws.
The company’s drastic action could cause wider economic disruption. The company has canceled ferry crossings on routes from England to Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands and France, including the Dover-Calais cross-Channel route which carries a large proportion of passengers and freight between the UK and Europe.
The government said the suspension could last a week to 10 days, but insisted it did not expect ‘major disruption’ as other ferry companies continued to ply the routes.
P&O said it had no choice but to cut costs after the pandemic hammered its finances, causing it to post a loss of 100 million pounds ($132 million) last year . The ferry operator, a unit of Dubai government-owned logistics giant DP World, said its survival depended on “rapid and significant change now”.
Managing director Peter Hebblethwaite said replacing unionized British seafarers with employees hired through International Ferry Management would cut P&O labor costs in half, according to a letter obtained by the site. information Mirror Online.
The opposition Labor Party has called on the Conservative government to suspend DP World contracts and licenses and recoup the £4.3m ($5.6m) it gave the company in funding emergency during the pandemic.
Some crew members initially refused to leave their ships after being told on Thursday that they were being made redundant, and unions were demonstrating in ports on Friday.
Several hundred people gathered near the famous White Cliffs of Dover, carrying banners that read, “Save our sailors” and “Save Britain’s ferries.” Another 200 protested in the port of Hull in northeast England, walking past the docked ferry Pride of Hull before knocking on the doors of the ferry terminal.
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said the government should consider nationalizing P&O.
‘I say to the Prime Minister: you have to step up and you have to deliver on your commitment to strengthen employment law so that this kind of gangster practice can’t happen again,’ Burnham told a rally in the North West . Port of Liverpool.
The head of the Nautilus International union, which represents some P&O crews, said contract staff operating the ships in the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, were raising safety concerns.
Nautilus and another union, RMT, said they were preparing legal action against the company.
“This is clearly illegal,” said Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson. “It’s a dark day in the shipping industry.”
The ultimate owner of P&O Ferries is Dubai World, a holding company that says it is committed to “generating value” for its shareholder, the Dubai government. The chairman of the company is Sheikh Ahmed Bin Said Al Maktoum, a member of the Royal Family of Dubai.
Dubai World’s holdings include global logistics company DP World, which owns P&O Ferries. The company operates ports, marine terminals and other facilities that employ more than 71,000 people in 69 countries around the world. In November, the company became the title sponsor of the European Professional Golf Tour, now known as the DP World Tour.
On March 10, DP World said net profit rose 5.9% to $896 million last year. Revenue jumped 26% to $10.8 billion after acquiring assets in the United States, India, South Korea, Ukraine, Angola and Canada.