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P&O ferry, Photo: msnetwerk, Pixabay / Public Domain

P&O ferry, Photo: msnetwerk, Pixabay / Public Domain

Time to step up the resistance in solidarity with P&O workers, writes John McGrath

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) met with the Management of P&O Ferries on Friday, 25 March to demand the reinstatement of the 800 seafarers illegally sacked on 17 March. The meeting lasted fewer then 20 minutes.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch reported:

“From the outset, the full obnoxiousness and hostility of the company towards their staff and RMT was odisplay… P&O were not prepared to listen to any scenario or develop any idea that would provide a means to create a solution to the current disastrous situation.”

The 20-minute standoff came a day after P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite told MPs that the company had knowingly broken the law and that “I would make this decision again, I’m afraid.”

The decision to brazenly sack 800 employees with a video message - the same workers who had been hailed as “essential workers” less than a year ago - was a new low in gangster capitalism.

Even more mafia-like, balaclava wearing heavies, employed by the security firm, Interforce, were hired by P&O to physically remove non-compliant workers away in handcuffs.

Because of a loophole in maritime employment law, P&O is planning on replacing the 800 seafarers with agency workers from overseas who aren’t protected by the National Minimum Wage.  These exploited foreign workers will be paid less than a third of what the sacked seafarers were earning and will not have adequate safety training putting the lives of all the workers and passengers on board in danger.

RMT and Nautilus International gave evidence to MPs in Parliament on Thursday, detailing how crews with an average of 20 years’ experience are being replaced with those who have insufficient training relating to fire safety, ventilation, fuel, ballast, and sewage tanks. 

Market logic dictates that accidents waiting to happen are of no concern when profits can be increased. 

P&O Ferries parent company, DP World, has paid dividends over $376,000,000 to its owners, the Dubai state, since 2020.  P&O has received support from UK taxpayers during this period, including £10 million from the furlough scheme.

According to UK law, P&O was required to notify the seafarers 45 days in advance of planned redundancies. Why did management deliberately break the law?  They knew they could get away with it. The maximum penalty of failure to notify workers is a forced severance of 90 days’ pay and, by offering slightly more than this, P&O knew they had the upper hand. 

More to the point, the company knew that the current government has a light touch on bad bosses, so any illegal action wouldn’t garner serious legislative pushback in the form of fines, the revoking of operating licenses or criminal prosecution, much less the seizure of assets.

So, while protesters are chanting “Seize the ships”, so far, the Tories have tisk-tisked and pointed manicured fingers at the company, resulting in the idea of renaming the 'Pride of Britain' ferry to something slightly less magnanimous. Whoopee.

Despite the worst labour laws in Europe, which among other things make solidarity strikes illegal, the RMT is fighting back. 

The union has staged a number of rallies and has called for people to boycott P&O.  A big crowd with heavy trade union support showed up at Larne Harbour, Northern Ireland, on Friday, and there are boycott demonstrations planned for Hull, Seaforth, and Dover on Saturday.

Furthermore, it has been announced that the RMT will be targeting P&O’s supply chain and any company complicit in P&O’s scandalous decision to fire 800 workers. Clyde Maritime Recruitment are responsible for hiring some of the scab labour replacing some of the ferry workers, and a demonstration has been called for Monday 28th March outside their office in Glasgow to bring attention to this wrongheaded company.

As Mick Lynch says:

“We are making it clear that there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide for those who have been complicit in the P&O jobs massacre. We will keep the pressure on at every opportunity until we get justice for the P&O workers… We look forward to another good turnout on Monday and greatly appreciate the remarkable solidarity from our trade union colleagues in this dispute.”

The demonstration will take place at Clyde Marine Recruitment, Maritime House, Watermark Business Park, 355 Govan Road, Glasgow on Monday 28th March at 11am. The Clyde Maritime Recruitment offices are a short walk from Ibrox Subway Station

Other demonstrations:

Dover:

Maritime House, Snargate Street. Saturday 26th March, 12noon.

Govan:

Clyde Marine Recruitment.

Monday 28th March, 11am

Seaforth:

Seafarer Centre, 20 Crosby Road, South Waterloo

Saturday 26th March, 11:30am

Hull:

King George Dock

Saturday 26th March, 1pm

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