Protestors demand P&O reverses ‘appalling’ decision to sack 800 workers

Demonstrations were held in Dover, Liverpool, Hull and Larne on Friday.

18 March 2022

Hundreds of protestors gathered at UK ports demanding P&O Ferries to reverse its “appalling” decision to sack 800 seafarers.

Demonstrations were held in Dover, Liverpool, Hull and Larne in Northern Ireland a day after the DP World-owned company fired the staff with no notice and replaced them with cheaper agency workers.

The protesters included sacked workers, seafarers from rival operators, trade union leaders, politicians and members of the public.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, who joined the rally in Dover, described P&O’s actions as “nothing short of a national scandal”.

“This is a disgraceful way for a Dubai-based conglomerate to treat British workers in this country,” she told the PA news agency.

She added: “I will be taking action in Parliament next week to push the Government to take sanctions against P&O now, to push leverage on them, to force them to change course and if it’s not illegal … then we need to make sure it is immediately made so.”

Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke was heckled by the crowd.

Around 400 protesters gathered outside the Port of Liverpool, including metro mayor of Liverpool Steve Rotheram and Sefton Central’s Labour MP Bill Esterson.

Mr Rotheram said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that in this day and age a company, just overnight, can say, ‘That’s the end of your job. That’s the end of your loyal service. You’re sacked and you’ve got no right to appeal.’”

Mr Esterson said: “I’m outraged at the appalling abuse of ordinary people by DP World.”

Protesters held flags and signs, including one which said: “Shame on you!! P&O stop the carve up.”

Lorry drivers on their way to and from the port beeped in support.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Labour’s Hull East MP Karl Turner addressed a protest at the ferry terminal in Hull.

Dismissed staff with decades of experience working for P&O attended a rally at Larne to voice disgust at their treatment.

Some described being escorted to their cabins by private security guards before being led off their vessel on Thursday.

Three sacked P&O crew members, from left to right: Colin Mansfield, Gail Dowey and Daniel McDonald protest at Larne Port in Northern Ireland
Three sacked P&O crew members, from left to right: Colin Mansfield, Gail Dowey and Daniel McDonald protest at Larne Port in Northern Ireland (David Young/PA)

Downing Street said the Government is looking to see if P&O has broken rules.

“We are looking very closely at the actions that this company has taken to see whether they acted within the rules,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“Once we have concluded that, we will decide what the ramifications are.

“Obviously there are a lot of valid questions in relation to existing contracts.”

He said companies should only make “extreme decisions to secure the future of their business if all other avenues have failed”, adding: “We don’t believe this was the case for P&O staff but we are looking into this very carefully.”

He added that senior officials in the Department of Transport were informed by the P&O chief executive on Wednesday evening of what the company was planning to do.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said there should be a widespread public and commercial boycott of the ferry giant until the jobs are reinstated.

It called on the Government to demand P&O reverses its decision and negotiates with the unions.

If this does not happen, the Government should use powers to take over the vessels, said the RMT, adding that ministers should remove any support for DP World, including future contracts.

General secretary Mick Lynch added: “The fact that the Government knew the day before that a foreign-owned company planned to cause major disruption to UK ports but did nothing to prevent it is shocking.”

P&O told passengers sailings will be suspended “for the next few days”.

The company operates four routes: Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, and Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland.

It advised those already at Dover and Calais to make their way to the check-in booths for Danish firm DFDS, but there were no such instructions for those at Hull, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Dublin, Cairnryan or Larne.

The firm insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.

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