Dubai-owned P&O Ferries has sparked a political firestorm after taking what has been described as a “disgraceful” decision to fire its 800 British crewmembers over Zoom in favour of cheaper foreign labour.
On Thursday morning, the British crew were told in a video call — without prior warning — that it would be their “final day of employment” by P&O Ferries, which was bought by the Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019.
In response to the abrupt mass sacking, crews staged protests, in some cases even refusing to leave their ships before being forcibly removed.
P&O Ferries argued that, despite receiving some £15 million in furlough support from the British taxpayer in 2020, the lockdowns have left the company unviable and therefore was necessary to rely on cheaper foreign workers to survive, the BBC reported.
“We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Without these changes, there is no future for P&O Ferries,” the company argued.
The moment P&O Ferries staff in Dover were told 800 jobs are being cut across the companyhttps://t.co/HtLQLJ5Vhe pic.twitter.com/3OMvIMzCR9
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) March 17, 2022
A steward for the Spirit of France ferry at Dover, James, told the BBC: “It feels like we have been abandoned by the company, only a few days ago they were ordering new uniforms and giving us all a pay rise and now, completely out the blue, they have sacked us.”
The decision to fire its British crew has sparked widespread condemnation from both sides of the political aisle in the United Kingdom.
Brexit leader Nigel Farage said it was a “disgrace that cheap foreign workers will replace 800 sacked P&O Ferries staff. Brexit was about putting our people first.”
Karl Turner, the Labour MP for East Hull — one of the areas where the ferries operate — said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government should demand that the ferry operator return the millions in taxpayer money that went directly towards furloughing its staff during the pandemic.
“Any money that the British taxpayer provided to that business should be taken back from them and the Government should be saying to the company ‘get round the table with the unions and negotiate some sort of deal’.
“We cannot have a situation like this whereby businesses can behave like this with British workers.”
On top of the furlough money P&O received from the taxpayer, the ferry operator has also requested a £150m bailout from the government — while paying out £250 million in dividends to shareholders in 2020.
Prime Minister Johnson’s office condemned the sacking of the 800 workers and said that the government’s maritime minister, Robert Courts, has raised the issue with the chief executive of P&O Ferries.
“The way these workers were informed was completely unacceptable,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“Clearly the way that this was communicated to staff was not right and we have made that clear. Our sympathies are with these hard-working employees affected during this challenging time who have given years of service to P&O,” he added.
Whether the Prime Minister actually intends to do anything about the Dubai-owned corporation’s behaviour other than complain remains to be seen, however.
Sacked P&O workers have blocked the main road into the Port of Dover after the company made 800 people redundant by Zoom, and replaced them with foreign staff.
Follow the latest: https://t.co/YxN1Kj7x5t pic.twitter.com/cWnrThESfB
— LBC (@LBC) March 17, 2022
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, for his part, said “It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting.”
“I just wish the Government had done what we said and strengthened employment rights so they couldn’t do this kind of thing,” Sir Keir said, adding: “The Government said it was going to deal with this sort of situation. It hasn’t done it.”
Indeed, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) previously ruled in favour of cruise line companies seeking to replace workers with lower-paid workers from other EU member-states, in the case of Latvia’s Laval and Finland’s Viking Line. The ruling went on to limit the right to strike for workers demanding equal pay in their country of origin.
While the ECJ controversially still has jurisdiction over the British province of Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has had over two years to update the legal framework surrounding workers’ rights on sea vessels.
More protests are expected to take place on Friday in Dover, Liverpool, and Hull, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has threatened to take legal action against P&O Ferries, calling the sackings one of the “most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations”.
'The people who voted Brexit, voted for better than this. The government had better have a very very rapid think about how it responds.'@Nigel_Farage reacts to hundreds of staff at P&O Ferries being made redundant with immediate effect.#FarageOnGBNews pic.twitter.com/FTgfAwjX7F
— GB News (@GBNEWS) March 17, 2022
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