Protests over sacking of hundreds of P&O workers as calls grow for boss to quit

The call comes after a ship was detained in Northern Ireland for being ‘unfit to sail’

Protests took place at Dublin Port and a number of UK ports on Saturday morning over the sacking of hundreds of seafarers, as calls grew for a P&O Ferries' boss to quit.

Earlier this month, the company let go almost 800 workers, and plans to replace them with agency staff on cheaper salaries.

In response to the decision, workers and trade unions including Siptu and Forsa protested at the company’s office in Dublin Port on Saturday to “send our support to the 800 workers and their families”.

Newly-elected Labour leader Ivana Bacik was also in attendance, stating she was "proud" to stand in protest over the treatment of P&O workers and the conduct of the company.

Jim McVeigh, organiser at Siptu, said the demonstration also seeks to “send a message to management to rehire these seafarers”.

While Dublin workers were not affected by the recent cuts, they’re “upset for the people who lost their jobs”, he added.

“Many of them knew them, or they socialised with them. This company must be made realise it cannot treat workers as disposable items rather than as human beings. It is despicable behaviour and is strongly condemned by Siptu members,” he said.

“The members also anxious about their own future in the medium to long term. This could be a slippery slope; that is something everyone is concerned about.”

Mr McVeigh added that they want to put “maximum pressure” on the company to rehire the individuals who lost their jobs.

The Dublin protest was part of a co-ordinated set of demonstrations across Ire land and Britain.

Protesters also gathered in Liverpool, Dover and Hull as the RMT union urged a stop to the "P&O Jobs Massacre".

People chanted “P&O, shame on you” as they marched along a street in Liverpool, with more than 100 turning out, according to the union.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) tweeted a video they said showed P&O dockers in Rotterdam refusing to load freight onto a ferry set for Hull "in solidarity with the 800 seafarers illegally sacked by P&O".

The demonstrations come after a ship operated by the ferry firm was detained for being “unfit to sail”.

The European Causeway vessel has been held at the port of Larne in Northern Ireland due to "failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training", the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

The British transport secretary Grant Shapps said he will not compromise the safety of P&O vessels and insisted that the company will not be able to rush training for inexperienced people.

A spokesperson for the MCA said: “We can confirm that the European Causeway has been detained in Larne.

“It has been detained due to failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training.

“The vessel will remain under detention until all these issues are resolved by P&O Ferries. Only then will it be reinspected.”

The MCA said there were no passengers or freight on board the European Causeway vessel when it was detained.

The detention of ships is based on concerns over their safety and to prevent them going to sea.

A P&O Ferries spokesman said: “European Causeway has undergone an inspection by the MCA in Larne, during which it was deemed not sufficiently ready for entry into operation.

“We shall review the findings, make any changes required and continue to work closely with the MCA to return the ship to service.”

The British Labour party has written to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asking whether the British government will seek the removal of P&O Ferries' chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite as a director under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.

In a letter, the party accused the government of “sitting on their hands” rather than taking action to hold P&O to account, adding that the “toothless response risks giving the green light to exploitation”.

In Larne, the local mayor of the Mid and East Antrim Council, William McCaughey, said they would support the reinstatement of the staff immediately.

“It is ridiculous what P&O has done to the staff, we in Larne would be very keen to see staff reinstated, it is the least that P&O could do,” he told the PA news agency.

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson welcomed the impounding of the ferry as a safety measure.

“It’s not like the crew of an airplane getting off one Easyjet and getting on to the next one where the controls are the exactly the same, and everything is in the same place,” he told PA.

“No two ships are the same, and you cannot just fly a crew in and expect them to be able to sail a ship.

“Every control will be in a different place, but particularly all those health and safety drills that have to be gone through, everything from lifeboat stations to how each item of equipment operates.

“It seemed to me it was going to be very difficult for staff to be able to take on that role in such a short period of time.

“I am absolutely delighted they have (impounded the ship). This isn’t vengeance against P&O, it’s about passenger safety and the safety of the crew as well.

The RMT union said it welcomed the detention of the European Causeway and it demanded the Government “seize the entire fleet” of P&O vessels. — PA