MP COLUMN: Debacle should be watershed moment for workers’ rights

Protests took place after P&O Ferries sacked its entire UK crew last week.Protests took place after P&O Ferries sacked its entire UK crew last week.
Protests took place after P&O Ferries sacked its entire UK crew last week.
The events at P&O Ferries this week, where 800 workers were told without warning via a pre-recorded Zoom message that they would all be losing their jobs with immediate effect, harks back to the Victorian age of gangster capitalism that we hoped were long gone in this country.

Even more chilling were the tales of security teams being hired to physically contain and intimidate any workers who dared resist their orders to leave their ships to face instant and unexpected unemployment in the midst of the most serious cost of living crisis we have faced in decades.

That this is happening in the 21st century is an outrage, but tragically this is the result of a government who have let bosses of big corporations feel like they can do whatever they want.

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They have already proven toothless while fighting against fire and rehire, and despite paying lip service to the idea of stopping the cruel practise they voted against a private members bill brought forward by a Labour MP that would do precisely that.

Yet this is even worse than fire and rehire – it is instant dismissal and replacement with international agency workers from countries such as India who will be paid reportedly as little as £1.80 an hour.

Despite acting as though this decision was made because they are hard up P&O’s parent company DP World saw record profits of $10.8 bn in 2021. P&O even sponsored a golf tournament in January for a whopping £147 million despite having a black hole in their pension scheme of £150 million that is owed to their workers.

Ultimately, this action is unjustifiable. It is the work of a company motivated only by greed with no regard for the wellbeing of its workers and who know they will be able to get away with it because of a soft government uninterested in defending its workers in the face of exploitative business practices.

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This event should be a watershed moment for workers’ rights by a government who promised when they were elected that we would be ‘taking back control’. Well, nothing about this episode looks like we have taken back any control to me.

Unfortunately, while this government is in power big corporations like DP world know they can get away with anything they like. For a party which prides itself on being patriotic, there is nothing patriotic about letting people who are trying to make an honest living for themselves and their families be thrown into unemployment in the middle of a cost of living crisis and doing nothing of any substance to support them.