OPINION

Ship company follows government’s lead in breaking the law with impunity

Posted On 01 Apr 2022 at 9:28 am

P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite defended the firm at a recent Commons hearing, saying they had sacked 800 workers without any consultation because “no union could accept our proposals”.

Well, no, clearly they wouldn’t. Just imagine what it would be like to come into work and be told via Zoom that you’ve lost your job with immediate effect, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation rocketing to a predicted 8 per cent.

The average sacked P&O seafarer was paid £36,000 a year for a skilled responsible job. Replacement crew members will receive an hourly rate starting at a shocking £5.15.

Worse, the RMT union said that Indian ratings brought in by offshore agencies to work the Dover-Calais P&O route were being paid £1.80 an hour, well below any legal minimum in the UK.

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Even Conservative MP Huw Merriman, a member of the party responsible for eroding workers’ rights, described the evidence in the hearing as a “tale of corporate thuggery where a huge company thinks it can break the law with impunity”.

Yet, it seems so far as though they actually CAN break the law with impunity, and that this is set to be another example of the ruling class doing just that when it suits them.

This follows our government’s lead in breaking international law over the EU withdrawal agreement and the illegal proroguing of Parliament – not to mention the fines now being levied over Partygate and the numerous findings of illegality and corruption over PPE purchasing scandals, including by the courts.

The Labour Party was founded as the political wing of the trade union movement, to be the voice of working people in Parliament, and locally we are proud to stand alongside unions and workers.

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When in administration here, the Labour group campaigned, alongside many enlightened businesses, to tackle the problem of unpaid “trial shifts”.

A number of local bars and restaurants were asking many people to work for nothing, often at busy times of the week, with no paid jobs in sight at the end. No one should be expected to work for free.

We also worked closely with Brighton and Hove Living Wage Campaign to encourage hundreds of local businesses to voluntarily pay employees the Brighton Living Wage instead of the government’s national minimum.

Many hard-fought protections for people at work were won through unions and workers being united in taking collective action.

It’s time to wake up to what the government and their associates in big business are doing to skirt around the law and erode our employment rights – it could be any of us next.

Councillor John Allcock is the joint Labour opposition leader on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Jen Reply

    Unfortunately, the so-called party of law and order is not alone in its disregard for the rule of law. Some of us recall a Labour Government leading our country into an illegal war on the back of a sexed up dodgy dossier to remove an unfriendly regime.
    It had repercussions. Locally, many members of the anti-war brigade left Labour and helped fuel the rise of the Greens.
    Nationally, it helped pave the way for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader.
    And internationally, it emboldened Putin to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other sovereign nations, from Georgia to Ukraine.
    Quite some record for Labour (acting with the support of many Tories).

  2. Peter Challis Reply

    Very good John, but perhaps you could concentrate on local issues and get back to providing an effective opposition to the Greens and hold them to account.

    Or is the “secret” coalition with the Greens still in place where you agree schemes behind closed doors, and let Greens free to decide what the ETS committee does?

  3. Chris Reply

    Well the need to consult with the government was done away with complying with an EU directive, where the obligation to consult at government level was moved to the flag of registration of the ship. Any blame there lies with government for not repealing that piece of EU legislation.
    That leaves the unfair dismissal of the employees, who would be entitled to damages. The owner has offered them more money than they would typically get from the employment tribunal.
    What you have to ask is – why did the employer do this in such a dramatic way – It is not the act of typical employers who seek to maintain – If nothing else a good public image.
    Now – if we changed the law to include a maximum time a non-UK resident employee could operate in UK waters that would stop this happening again, and maybe force employment of UK residents. Of course the EU might have something to say about this…

  4. Vince Reply

    Very helpful. Perhaps you can explain why ONLY UK employees were given the old heave-ho?

    I’ll wait.

  5. Chris Reply

    Well P&O deny basing decisions on nationality or race, but I would bet on everyone that was crappily fired had a UK contract. However – The Insolvency Service has reviewed P&O Ferries’ actions and placed it under criminal investigation for its actions – Nautilus website.
    And still ferries are failing safety and staff training. I think the owner will sell or go bust soon. Shambles!

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