Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
Condemnation of the Dubai-owned ferry company’s peremptory handling of 800 redundancies, via video recording, without consultation, without notice, has (finally?) ‘united’ Industry leaders and Union officials.
Seemingly, not all the P&O workers have been sacked. The Irish & French workers are (still) European citizens & covered by EU employment regulations,. & the ‘Failing company that has to make changes to survive’ defense P&O are regurgitating in the media is a bit strange when this failing company paid £250 millions in dividends to it’s share holders last year.
The Executive Directors are all still in post and the Dubai based parent company made $4 billion profit last year… If you look at a map of their present ferry routes, company’s moving freight say ‘it’s not worth the hassle going through the U.K’., Yet there are still Tory politicians saying it’s got nothing to do with Brexit…. Let’s just call the current cost of living crisis what it really is – “Getting Fucked by the Torys”.
They convinced people to vote for something that was in reality a huge act of self harm so the rich elite could avoid paying tax. Remember things like Trade Unions and Nationalised Industries? the Torys call them ‘the bad old days’, they mean bad for shareholders & private profit,..’Capitalism’?
Ordinary working people, everywhere in the U.K., can expect the same treatment as those P&O workers, that’s the economic model the Torys are building, and they’re getting away with it because people are letting them.
Bungs, handcuffs and foreign job ads
Some sacked P&O officers are being contacted by a firm hiring replacement crews and offered a £20,000 bonus if they sign up with them to be rehired for their old roles.
International Ferry Management (IFM) was registered on 11 February in Malta last month, just five weeks before 800 P&O seafarers found out they were being made redundant via a pre-recorded video message on Thursday.
A sample IFM offer of employment sent to a P&O worker on the day of the sacking announcement, promised a retention bonus of £19,666.67 if the offer is accepted by this Thursday, falling to £9,833.33 if the offer is accepted by 31 March.
The job would be to work rotation for two weeks on and two weeks off, with interested parties urged to contact IFM’s recruitment team.
It is not known how many P&O workers have received the job offers, but it is believed that captains and officers with Pilot Exemption Certificates, are among those who have been contacted. The Malta Business Register, the country’s equivalent of Companies House, (UK) showed IFM’s director listed as Swiss national Antonio Ciriale, 58, whose name appeared in the Paradise Papers leak.
Glasgow-based firm Clyde Marine Recruitment are also hiring workers to cover the mass sacking of P&O Ferries staff. In an email to all P&O Ferries workers, the ferry operator’s CEO Peter Hebblethwaite defended the mass redundancies as a “difficult but necessary decision”. P&O Ferries had “entered into a new partnership with International Ferry Management (IFM)” to provide new crews for affected ships”, he said.
Mr Hebbelthwaite wrote: “Our new teams of seafaring colleagues have already joined our ships. Our new crew are now going through a process of intense familiarisation and training programme on our ships, run by IFM. Only when that process has happened, will we gradually return to a normal service safely and securely – upholding our P&O standards and brand.”
DP WORLD, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
It has been called the Greatest Show on Earth. When the Expo 2020 Dubai closes at the end of the month, some 20 million people from across the world will have visited, awed by the acres of light shows, exhibitions and live performances from the likes of Coldplay and the Black Eyed Peas.
Few of its glittering pavilions are more impressive than the four-storey high-tech hub built by DP World, the multibillion-dollar ports and shipping empire controlled by the Emirate’s sovereign wealth fund and its leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Whitehall officials tried to justify P&O Ferries’ sacking of 800 workers by telling ministers it would “ensure that they remain a key player in the UK market for years to come through restructuring”, a leaked memo shows.
The briefing document shows the Department for Transport failed to challenge the company’s decision to dismiss crew members with immediate effect, possibly in breach of employment law. Written by a senior official, it was shared across the government, including with the prime minister’s private office, before P&O told staff in a video recording on Thursday that it was their final day at the company.
The leaked memo, by a senior Whitehall official, justified the mass redundancies, stating that “without these decisions, an estimated 2,200 staff would likely lose their jobs”.
The memo, said to have been written before ferry staff were told their jobs were being lost last Thursday, said the redundancies “will align them [P&O] with other companies in the market who have undertaken a large reduction in staff previously”.
The memo was “widely shared across government”, including copies to the prime minister’s private office while the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is understood to have received a copy, the Sunday Times reported.
Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: “This proves the government was not only aware of P&O ferries’ scandalous action but complicit in it. “They knew people’s livelihoods were on the line and they knew P&O was attempting to use exploitative fire and rehire practices. But they sat back and did nothing. The shambolic response to this shameful episode proves the Conservatives cannot and will not stand up for British workers.”
P&O Ferries has been accused of wanting to exploit a loophole in minimum wage laws to draft in cheap foreign workers for its vessels. The company has previously faced allegations of hiring crew for as little as £1.83 an hour, because the national minimum wage laws do not apply on international sea routes. Union officials say P&O may be able to cut its wage bill by up to half.
MPs are furious at the mass sackings via online video by a firm that has relied on more than £10 million of taxpayers’ support to pay staff wages during the pandemic. Ministers face urgent calls to review the operations of its Dubai-based owner DP World, which also operates ports at London Gateway and Southampton. The company said it had made a £100 million loss in a year, and “swift and significant” changes were needed.
P&O suspended services on routes between Dover and Calais, Larne in Northern Ireland and Cairnryan in Scotland, Dublin and Liverpool, and Hull and Rotterdam. New crews are already in place, and P&O’s Liverpool-Dublin crossings resumed on Saturday afternoon. If they can get away with this in Liverpool, so quickly, a city so stoically, pro trade unionist, they can achiever their plans ‘anywhere’?
DP World purchased P&O Ferries in February 2019 for £322 million.
The chairman and group chief executive is Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem. It is ultimately owned by Dubai’s ruling, Royal Family. In May 2020, the firm announced up to 1,100 redundancies, the majority of which were crew in Hull and Dover. Unions warned MPs then that they were concerned about a long-term plan to replace UK-based crews with “low-cost foreign crews”.
Surveys by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and analysis of previous staff contracts revealed P&O has been at the bottom or near bottom of the league table of pay for overseas staff. In 2019, an ITF survey claimed that P&O was paying catering staff a basic hourly rate as low as £1.83, excluding overtime. Staff from Poland, Portugal and the Philippines complained they were struggling to cope with working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for two months at a time.
Are the P&O Ferries mass sackings a result of Brexit?
The unceremonious sacking of 800 P&O Ferries workers may look like a consequence of Britain leaving the EU, with any legal action by the trade unions turning into the first big test of workers’ rights post-Brexit.
Despite Johnson’s assurances that Britain’s departure from the EU would be better for UK workers, there have been fears it would be seen by the government as an opportunity to erode workers’ rights in a bid to increase competitiveness.
However, the reality is that, so far at least, there has been no derogation from EU employment rights and the scope for any backsliding is limited. Contained within the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU, there is a non-regression clause, under which Britain agreed not to reduce employment rights below the standards existing on 31 December 2020 in a manner that would affect trade or investment. The EU could take retaliatory measures such as tariffs if trade or investment were affected and could also legally challenge the regression before a panel of experts.
John Bowers QC, a leading employment barrister and principal of Brasenose college, Oxford, said: “Although the government’s huffed and puffed about changing the law, so far they haven’t.” The straightforward statutory redundancy law is purely UK, it’s the redundancy consultation [law] that is EU-related and we haven’t changed that.
Andrea London, a partner in law firm Winckworth Sherwood’s employment team, said Brexit was a “red herring”. She said ‘the EU collective redundancies directive was implemented in the UK by a primary act of parliament’ which, “gold-plated” (went beyond) the EU legislation, adding: “Given its longevity and trade union backing, it is firmly entrenched in the UK employment law environment, and there inevitably would be considerable opposition to any repeal or paring back of the protections in this act due to leaving the EU.”
When there were reports – (denied by the government) – that proposals were being considered to lower employment rights, those plans did not mention redundancy rights but rather an end to the 48-hour maximum working week, changes to rules about breaks at work, and removing overtime pay when calculating certain holiday pay entitlements. Where Brexit has had an impact is in the courts, currently, its effect will be limited.
When the UK was a member of the EU, the country’s highest appeal court could ask the European Court of Justice for an opinion on how to interpret EU law but post-Brexit it will no longer be able to do this for employment cases nor (most) others.
However, most people bringing employment tribunals will probably be oblivious to the changes, and given that the P&O Ferries case involves rights conferred directly by UK laws it is a ‘moot point‘ and will not have any impact on legal action brought by trade unions against the ferry operator.
Regardless, the chances of the case going to the supreme court seem remote at this stage if it is a straightforward matter legally of the company not having consulted with workers prior to the redundancies, unless there is a dispute over the jurisdiction of the employment contracts.
Bowers said what had happened was not a result of Brexit but of insufficient legal protection. “The only remedy is a monetary one,” he said. “What there really should be is an injunction to stop people dismissing without consultation.”
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Saturday, Mark Dickinson of Seafarers Association Nautilus International urged the Government to revoke all P&O Ferries licences to operate vessels in British waters, and “pursue any legal option available, including criminal proceedings, for P&O’s failure to follow their statutory obligation to inform the Secretary of State in advance of making mass redundancies.”
Mr Dickinson added: “This outrageous action by P&O also exposes a clear gap in British employment law. Fire and rehire is a legal loophole that allows unscrupulous employers to circumvent legal protections for workers, this should never have been allowed to happen”.
“The Government must, with haste, outlaw fire and rehire – no dither or delay.”
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh also said ‘P&O Ferries must not be allowed to resume sailings with replacement workers’. Ms Haigh said: “Strong words from the Government are meaningless – they must step in and act.”
In an internal memo, believed to have been sent to staff on Friday, Mr Hebbelthwaite said the vessel Norbank “will be back in service from tomorrow, sailing on the Liverpool-Dublin route.” The crew on the Norbank are not believed to have been among those who were dismissed on Thursday. Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden, said ‘there was “revulsion” about P&O Ferries’ actions in sacking 800 staff.’
It comes after Mr Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned P&O Ferries could be facing an unlimited fine and be stripped of Government contracts.
In a stinging rebuke to P&O, Mr Shapps said: “Although I understand you told a very small group of officials the evening before the announcement, this was clearly far too late for the Government to engage in something you had obviously been planning for some time and were determined to force through.”
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said there was “revulsion” about P&O Ferries’ actions in sacking 800 staff. It comes after Mr Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned P&O Ferries could be facing an unlimited fine and be stripped of Government contracts.
Questioning the legality of the mass job cull, Mr Shapps said he was now reviewing P&O Ferries contracts with the Government, which was “closely considering its relationship with your organisation”.
In a stinging rebuke to P&O, Mr Shapps said: “Although I understand you told a very small group of officials the evening before the announcement, this was clearly far too late for the Government to engage in something you had obviously been planning for some time and were determined to force through. P&O has received considerable support from the taxpayer throughout the pandemic, including via the furlough scheme and the disappointment we feel is even more acute because of the undertakings the company gave not to change terms and conditions when your ships were reflagged to Cyprus in 2019.”
Mr Shapps said his officials would now review all the contracts the Government has with P&O Ferries and DP World.
He had also instructed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to inspect all the firm’s vessels before they go back into service “to ensure that the new crews you have rushed through are sufficiently safe to go to sea.” He added: “I am deeply concerned over reports that in moving against your workers so rapidly P&O may not have followed the correct and legal processes. I have therefore asked the Insolvency Service to look at the notification requirements and to consider further action if appropriate”.
Mr Kwarteng warned P&O the firm appeared to have failed to properly notify the Government and relevant bodies of its plans, which would be “a criminal offence and could lead to an unlimited fine”.
A Government spokesperson stated “We are absolutely clear that using fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable, and we expect companies to treat their employees fairly. “If an employer needs to make changes to an employee’s contract, they must seek to reach an agreement with that worker or their representatives. To ensure employers understand their responsibilities, we asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to produce more comprehensive, clearer guidance to help employers explore all other options before considering ‘fire and rehire’.”
When contacted, Mr Ciriale declined to comment directly and referred questions to a ‘spokesman’.
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