P&O could face criminal prosecution over sackings, UK minister warns

Union claims Indian seafarers replacing 800 sacked workers are being paid €2.16 an hour

Britain’s transport secretary has warned P&O Ferries that the company could face criminal prosecution over last week’s sacking of 800 workers, adding that its ferries will undergo safety inspections before they can resume service. Grant Schapps was speaking during a debate at Westminster after unions claimed that Indian seafarers hired to replace the sacked workers are being paid $2.38 (€2.16) an hour .

“I implore P&O Ferries to reconsider their decision. It’s not too late to acknowledge their mistakes. I hope the reaction to that now-infamous video in the House, the media and across the country tells them that this approach is quite simply unacceptable,” he said.

“For our part we’re reviewing all Government contracts with P&O Ferries as a matter of urgency and with DP World and, where possible, we’re looking to use other providers if indeed there are any contracts where the UK government is involved. I believe at this point that they have been historic in nature rather than current. We’re considering further steps we can take to remove P&O Ferries’ influence from British maritime, including positions on any advisory boards because again I don’t want to see that company, with the way the management has behaved, advising the way that British maritime is shaped and rolls out.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said she had seen a memo, which showed that the government had known about the company’s plan before workers were informed in a recorded video message. She said the memo reflects the fact that P&O knew it could get away with the action because the government valued its investments in the company more than the jobs that were about to be lost.


‘Thuggish’ tactics

“It not only makes it clear that the government were 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,” she said.

“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.”

Some of the sacked workers sat in the public gallery as MPs debated the issue, with P&O facing condemnation from all sides of the house. Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said earlier that the news that newly hired seafarers were being paid only a fifth of the national minimum wage highlighted how exploitative the company’s behaviour was.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times