Outrageous behaviour by P&O

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We were all shocked by the summary dismissal yesterday of 800 P&O employees. My immediate reaction – as a former trades union branch officer – was “Surely that is illegal?”. The unions are, of course, taking legal advice.

And the Government itself, in the person of the Maritime minister Robert Courts, has criticised strongly P&O, describing the action as “wholly unacceptable”.

Sarah Olney, our Transport spokesperson, has commented on this:

Today’s underhanded action by P&O is an attack on workers. It is an absolute outrage.

This is simply not an acceptable way to treat employees and the government must step in urgently to help reduce tensions and bring people back to the table.

If the current owners cannot manage this company properly then the government needs to consider how a more responsible owner can be brought in.

Clearly the Conservatives also need to tighten up rules about how registered ships treat workers to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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23 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 18th Mar '22 - 10:57am

    There is one other point that was mentioned this morning. The contracts between P&O Ferries and its employees are under the law of Jersey, a Crown Dependency where the company is officially headquartered, rather than the UK. We also should be campaigning for the end to these islands’ rights to provide worse employee protection than companies in the UK. If they employ UK staff, they should have to meet all UK employment protection legislation. This egregious behaviour justifies retrospective legislation and I hope that our Parliamentarians will bring this forward.

  • A question… How (If, as it appears, the UK staff are being immediately replaced with cheaper foreign agency workers) did these foreign agency workers get, en masse, into the UK to join ships in Liverpool, Hull, Dover, etc?b…Bearing in mind the difficulty, post Brexit, for ANY overseas worker coming to the UK (special government dispensations needed for Truck drivers, Care staff, etc…)

  • Jason Connor 18th Mar '22 - 1:21pm

    Yes and as a unite member myself I agree with Christine Jardine on LBC that P & O should be brought into public ownership. Surely the unions/employees can take legal action on unfair dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages. It’s simply unacceptable to sack all the staff without any notice and then to backdate. This company has set a new low for industrial relations in this country.

  • Charles Smith 18th Mar '22 - 1:24pm

    The British government warned that travellers could expect 10 days of disruption on routes to Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

    Workers, many of whom were fired via Zoom message, reacted angrily after receiving no advance notice of their dismissal and being told that the ferries would be staffed by a third-party crew provider. Some locked themselves on their vessels in protest.
    https://worldabcnews.com/hundreds-of-u-k-based-ferry-workers-suddenly-fired-many-via-zoom/

  • Phil Beesley 18th Mar '22 - 2:25pm

    Given the UK’s dependence on cross channel commerce, and the volume provided by P & O, I would be surprised if HMG had agreed to a change in operations of services advance of the kerfuffle. But, of course, no announcement of change was made to HMG.

    It is therefore logical and legal (HMG make stuff up regularly) for P & O staff to be assigned to their previous roles. For the company to operate as quickly as possible in the manner previous in the interests of the UK.

    Ferry commerce is important to our relations in Ireland, up and down. It isn’t just a GB problem. It’s a European problem.

  • If P&O are expecting to make a saving by replacing British employees with agency staff, that implies that they have qualified people lined up prepared to work for maybe half of what the British employees were being paid. Otherwise how do they make a worthwhile saving whilst the agency also takes a cut?

    Or have they found some scheme to operate in a way that completely saves them paying for any NI, pension, holiday, insurance etc costs?

  • There is a very long tradition of having ships crewed by people of nationalities other than that under which the ships are registered. Nor are they necessarily people from the countries to which the ships sail. Each of the P&O ships goes somewhere other than an English port – it would be relatively easy to pick up crews supplied by contractor at the other ends of the voyages – no need for crew members to set foot in the UK at all. P&O pays the contractor an agreed amount (maybe per person). The contractor deals with all the details like local taxes, pensions, etc.

  • john oundle 18th Mar '22 - 9:26pm

    Unless it has changed, under UK employment law,If a person is made redundant then their position is eliminated.

    If P & O have found some way around this then hopefully those working at ports will treat them in the same way as Russian ships & simply refuse to service the ships in any shape or form & the ships will be unable to move.

  • A timely lesson, will the LibDem MPs grasp the opportunity?

    This is a demonstration of what is possible under zero rights employment, something the government is permitting and HMRC are actively encouraging through the favours it is showing agencies who operate umbrella companies for freelance/contract workers, who are effectively employees with zero employment rights – all kosker under UK law; including the agencies offshoring the umbrella companies to avoid tax to such an extent that they have cost HMRC more in lost revenue than HMRC itself estimates it would recover from the IR35 changes it has made.

    So will the LibDem MPs stand up and demand that umbrella company arrangements and zero rights employment are outlawed under UK law?

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Mar '22 - 7:06am

    P&O ferries Dubai-based owner begs for £150m bailout (as it plans to give investors £270m)
    From Arpil 2020
    https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-8266035/P-O-owner-begs-150m-bailout-plans-investors-270m.html
    “DP World boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, who was paid £5.4million last year, has dismissed suggestions of scrapping the dividend and branded the UK government’s response to the pandemic ‘slow’ after pleas for money received no immediate reply.

    But Luke Hildyard, director of the High Pay Centre, said: ‘Mega-wealthy individuals and huge corporations don’t seem to understand that we need the Government to protect jobs and incomes for millions of workers and provide resources for critical public services like the NHS, because they have no idea of the hardship that many people are going through.

    ‘In some cases, public money will be required to support businesses. But it can’t then be wasted on huge payouts for executives and investors and assurances to this effect should be required first.'”

  • Latest reports are that ONLY British employees are affected..French and Dutch media reports state that their nationals have not been sacked…
    I note that, prior to the Brexit vote, the RMT union urged it’s members to vote ‘leave’ to, in their own words, “safeguard their jobs and working conditions”..Hmmm

  • As fire and hire, together with other variations on gig employment, have been rolled out across business, education and health, why is this such a surprise? Some Tory MPs, including Robert Court MP and lawyer speaking in the house, seem genuinely shocked by P&O. Is it really possible that they have such a poor grasp of their own government’s direction of travel?
    Millions of employees are affected adversely by the present conditions, which only benefit a very few extremely wealthy individuals. It is surely time for a major revision of employment law and how it can be enforced. The LibDems should be the party can come up with proposals that ensure that businesses can thrive while treating employees fairly – Tories and Labour endlessly reinforce the upstairs – downstairs model of bad relationships. Employment problems are now so widespread that they cross the old party divisions. If, and it’s a recurring weakness, the party could communicate such a policy to the nation in an inspiring way then we might get a disaffected electorate to take us seriously.

  • @Nonconformistradical – Good article, it seems DP World boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem is into telling big fib’s:

    “He rejected suggestions DP World should postpone its dividend because it had ‘never taken a penny out’. ‘Any profits we have made we have reinvested in new vessels,’ he added.”

    The only reason to declare a dividend is to take money out.

  • Andrew Sosin 21st Mar '22 - 12:07pm

    In a war situation, HMG should requisition the P & O ships using existing crews to ensure supply of medical and military equipment to Ukraine on a timely basis.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Mar '22 - 10:13am

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/po-ferries-hires-pr-firm-used-by-oligarchs-and-putin-allies/

    The ferry firm that sacked 800 people yesterday is using a PR firm that has also advised oligarchs and Kremlin allies to clean up its image, openDemocracy can reveal.

    P&O Ferries has partnered with New Century Media for advice on public relations.

    The PR business, which is run by former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, has donated more than £200,000 to the Conservative Party. It has previously worked for an array of Russian businesses and top oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin. P&O’s parent firm DP World is also directing journalists’ enquiries to New Century Media.”

  • nvelope2003 23rd Mar '22 - 1:31pm

    Roland: Why would anyone invest in a company which did not pay dividends at some stage. Please don’t say it should be nationalised. We have enough nationalised firms wasting money and treating their employees with contempt. The Taxpayers have now been lumbered with the cost of compensating hundreds of postmasters who were hounded by management for its own mistakes and thought they were fireproof until some brave souls took them to court and even then they tried to avoid making anything like full compensation.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Mar '22 - 6:28pm

    @nvelope2003
    Your posting at 1:31pm rather gives the impression that you think all nationalised orgnaisations bad, all others good.

    Um… Carillion…?

    By the way – on the’ why invest in a company which didn’t pay dividends’ issue – companies don’t always pay them after all – when times aren’t good.

    As it happens, P&O many years ago offered a perk to shareholders – concessionary fares. One had to have a minimum shareholding to qualify for the concession. Initially the shares did pay a dividend but at some time the rules were changed so that – can’t recall the details – one could either have dividend-paying shares or concessionary units to get the reduced ferry fares.

    So there are (I’ve seen discussion online) people around who hold these concessionary units but don’t receive dividends any more. For frequent users the cost of the shares might have been more than covered by the fare reductions.

  • @nvelope2003 – Suggest you take a look at the history of the technology sector.
    Many companies didn’t declare a dividend, instead giving value back to shareholdings in the form of increasing share price.

    But the point I was making, which you commented on wasn’t about non-payment of dividends, but the outright lie Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem made which clearly implied DP Group had never declared a dividend.

    As to ‘investors’, much depends upon who they are, typically the professionals will make interest bearing loans and load the company with debit so that they don’t declare a taxable profit.

  • Phil Beesley 24th Mar '22 - 1:38pm

    nvelope2003: “We have enough nationalised firms wasting money and treating their employees with contempt. The Taxpayers have now been lumbered with the cost of compensating hundreds of postmasters who were hounded by management for its own mistakes and thought they were fireproof until some brave souls took them to court and even then they tried to avoid making anything like full compensation.”

    1. The Post Office Counters infrastructure are/were parts of an organisation founded by government. They were never nationalised because they were never privately owned.

    2. Postmasters and postmistresses have been accused of false accounting by an organisation which has always been owned by government.

    3. “The Taxpayers have now been lumbered with the cost of compensating hundreds of postmasters” is untrue. The problem isn’t “now”. Taxpayers have had responsibility to recompense people for 20 or more years since it became clear that accusations were false.

    4. The source of the false accounting irregularities is a computer system provided by ICL/Fujitsu. ICL were the preferred UK supplier for government systems.

    5. Post Office management chose to believe that accounting irregularities were caused by postmaster fraud, even when it was demonstrated that operators of the ICL/Fujitsu Horizon system were able to manipulate account balances.

    6. Pro bono law support doesn’t work for people accused in complex cases. The post office managers who have cleared their names and “received compensation” had to pay massive legal fees.

    7. Given that courts have examined the cases of ~730 people accused of false accounting, it is time for Post Office management and ICL/Fujitsu to explain their accounts.

  • Peter Martin 24th Mar '22 - 2:18pm

    Good to see a party, which proclaims “not paid for by trade unions ” as a virtue, actually supporting a trades union. If there were no trades unions then there’d be even more of this kind of “outrageous behaviour” than there is.

    As Michael Taylor acknowledged in this article:

    “There has been for some time a substantial number of Liberal Democrats who think that Trades Unions are an anachronism.”

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/the-case-for-trades-unions-59321.html

  • Phil Beesley 24th Mar '22 - 4:04pm

    I am surprised by the absence of comment about this BBC story:
    P&O recruitment agency says it knew nothing about sackings

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-60813000

    Apparently a firm which proclaims its expertise in the maritime market was surprised when asked to find 200 replacement officers to work between ports associated with P & O Ferries.

    ‘Managing director Ian Livingstone said: “Clyde Marine Recruitment Ltd have supplied crews and officers to P&O for more than 30 years.

    “We were as surprised as everyone else in the UK shipping business when the news broke that 600 crew and 200 officers were to lose their jobs with immediate effect.’

  • nvelope2003 24th Mar '22 - 8:59pm

    Roland /Phil Beesley: I’m aware that a rising share price is attractive to people even when no dividend is paid.
    I was using the term “nationalised” as a short term for a publicly owned business founded by the Government under Henry VIII or Charles I depending who you believe and used by Oliver Cromwell and his successors to spy on people.
    The original post masters who went to court have now been promised similar compensation to what the others should receive. Why are the manufacturers of the failed system not being asked to pay compensation? 20 years seems too long to wait. Maybe those responsible were waiting to get there index linked pension first?

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Mar '22 - 9:20pm

    @nvelope2003
    “The original post masters who went to court have now been promised similar compensation to what the others should receive. Why are the manufacturers of the failed system not being asked to pay compensation? ”
    https://www.cityam.com/all-eyes-on-fujitsu-as-post-office-horizon-leaves-taxpayer-with-hefty-compensation-bill/
    “Pressure continues to mount on the Japanese IT giant Fujitsu to pay its share of compensation amid the ongoing Post Office public inquiry.

    It comes after chancellor Rishi Sunak finally declared in the last few weeks that all the victims of the IT glitch would be compensated, which is likely to cost the taxpayer well beyond £1bn…..”

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