Outrage as P&O sacks 800 crew: protests at UK ports today

P&O ferry coming into port.

Leading UK ferry operator, P&O Ferries, has sacked 800 crew across its entire fleet with no warning and no consultation leading to protests and staff staging sit-ins on Thursday 17 March on board ferries.

The mass redundancies were announced via a Zoom video link on 17 March, with the termination of 800 crew effective immediately. P&O, owned by the Dubai-based DP World, said in the video call that the ferries would be crewed by a third-party crew provider moving forward.

Replacement agency workers were in some ports readying to board the ferries soon after the announcement was made. According to local reports, in some cases, the agency workers crossed paths with the shocked P&O employees.

On the video link obtained by the BCC, P&O said: ‘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.”

P&O Ferries announced via Twitter that its ferries will be staying in port for the next few days, with travellers warned to expect mass disruption. The company said it was a “tough” decision but it would “not be a viable business” without the changes.

The backlash against P&O is growing. Unions, workers and politicians have met the drastic decision and the manner with which it was relayed to staff by P&O with shock and outrage. MPs have accused the company’s actions as “callous” and “disgraceful”.

P&O staff and other trades unionists will join demonstrations in Dover, Liverpool, Hull and London today, Friday 18 March.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) demanded yesterday in a statement ‘protection of UK seafarer jobs amid speculation that hundreds of UK seafarers are to be sacked and replaced with foreign labour’.

Following the shock announcement, some crew refused to disembark the ferries. In Hull, the sit-in lasted around five hours, according to local reports.

RMT stated that security guards with handcuffs were brought in and were boarding ships to remove crew.

Following the announcement by P&O, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are receiving reports that security guards at Dover are seeking to board ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour.

“We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the government to take action to stop what is fast turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.

“If this happens at P&O it can happen anywhere and we are calling for mass trade union and wider public mobilisation and protest against the company.”

In April 2020, RMT had called for P&O ferries to be nationalised, highlighting that parent company DP World had made a £270m dividend payment to private shareholders, while simultaneously taking over £10m from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to keep 1,400 workers.

Just a couple of months after the announcement of the dividend, P&O said it would cut 1,100 jobs after a downturn in bookings related to the pandemic.

And, in January, the Mirror reported that the company’s billionaire owners spent £147m on a golf contest, despite there being a £146m black hole in the company’s pension fund.

iNews has quoted a ‘source’ claiming government layers are examining ways to claw back taxpayers’ money spent on furloughing P&O staff during the pandemic. This, however, may prove difficult due to the no-strings-attached nature of the job retention scheme.

In a statement released yesterday, the Port of Dover said it recognises ‘how difficult today’s announcement by P&O Ferries must have been, but also acknowledges the magnitude of the financial challenge the company appears to have had across its multiple routes as a business. The Port will work with P&O Ferries as the operator looks to deliver a financially viable service from Dover going forward, but our thoughts are of course also with all those directly affected by today’s announcement.’

Following the RMT announcing the demonstrations scheduled to begin in ports around the UK from midday on 18 March, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch says: “It is vital workers from every industry mobilise for the demonstrations on Friday.

“We need to send a message to ruthless employers and the government alike, that when working people are treated so abysmally, there is a militant response from the trade union movement.

“This example of gangster capitalism which our members in P&O have been subjected to is what lies ahead for other workers up and down the country if we do not all take a stand.”

Yesterday, the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s (ITF) general secretary Stephen Cotton said: “The news today is shocking. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn P&O. We will not accept its move to axe the jobs of its loyal seafaring workforce with no notice. We all must question how a company can literally sack its entire workforce on less than 24 hours’ notice.

“Our unions are awaiting further information from P&O and DP World – its major shareholder – but the ITF and ETF stand ready to mobilise support to defend these workers’ jobs. We’re deeply concerned at reports that busloads of non-union crew and ‘handcuff trained’ security are sitting in Dover and Hull, waiting to remove and replace the British-based seafarers. We are shocked and angry that P&O, a company that pocketed thousands of pounds of UK taxpayer’s money during the pandemic, intends to forcefully remove crews.”

Pre-pandemic, P&O Ferries carried more than 10 million passengers a year. The company carries about 15 per cent of all freight cargo in and out of the UK.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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