Anger mounting as cheaper workers start a day after laying off 800 workers on P&O ships

Hundreds of people rallied at P&O’s Dover, Hull and Liverpool terminals and at DP World’s central London offices today to protest the redundancies announced by P&O on Thursday

Members of the RMT protest against job cuts in Dover
Members of the RMT protest against job cuts in Dover

P&O were branded “immoral and aggressive” and told they were “acting like gangsters” as protests against the mass redundancies took place in ports across the UK today.

The government is investigating whether P&O broke the law when the firm fired 800 employees without notice on Thursday, many via recorded video messages.

All government contracts with P&O Ferries and its wealthy Dubai owner, DP World, are now “reviewed” and each P&O vessel must be inspected by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency before setting sail with its new crews.

Hundreds of people rallied at the P&O terminals in Dover, Hull and Liverpool and at DP World offices in central London to protest the redundancies.

In Hull, Labor MP Karl Turner was among 200 protesters who marched to the P&O terminal, banged on the doors and urged management to come out for a talk. Mr. Turner shouted, “Come and face these dismissed men and women and explain to them why you did what you did.”

New contract workers started the day after 800 workers were laid off



A man in his 40s who said his belongings were still at P&O’s Pride of Hull has been told by email that he has been fired. He said, “It’s despicable.”

Another man, a father of two in his 30s who had worked for P&O for seven years, said: “I had my whole life planned out and now I have nothing. It was callous, despicable, shameful.”

In Dover, Tory MP Natalie Elphicke was mocked as she joined the demonstration, saying: “Shame on you – you voted fire and reinstatement”.

Billy Jones, industry secretary for Humber Shipping at the RMT union, accused P&O of converting its ferries into “modern slave ships” and paying new crews as little as £2.60-2.80 an hour. P&O didn’t comment on the claimed wage rates, although an insider insisted the figures were wrong.

A protest march outside the main entrance to the Port of Liverpool on Merseyside


Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

However, when asked about the actual wage rates, they replied that the company was unable to do so because the workers in question were employed by an outside agency. Because of ‘flags of convenience’, if a ship is registered in another country with different employment rules, workers could potentially be paid less than the UK’s living wage of £8.91 an hour.

In a letter to P&O CEO Peter Hebblethwaite, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The disappointment we feel is even greater because the company pledged not to change terms and conditions when their ships were re-flagged to Cyprus in 2019.”

The Nautilus International union said: “We will of course keep a very close eye on the wage situation at P&O.”

There was also a protest in Hull


AFP via Getty Images)

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng also wrote to Mr Hebblethwaite asking whether “clear rules” on mass layoffs had been followed.

He said: “Failure to report is a criminal offense and can result in an unlimited fine. We note that in this case P&O Ferries does not appear to have followed this process.”

The company claims the layoffs were necessary due to mounting losses.

Karl Turner, Labor MP for Kingston upon Hull East, speaks to protesters outside the Port of Hull



The RMT’s John Tilley claimed the replacement of British workers with cheap foreign labor had been going on “for decades” so only “a handful” of British workers were affected.

A contract worker drafted in to replace P&O workers told how he walked away after realizing what had happened. Mark Canet-Baldwin told BBC Radio Humberside: “It was awful.”

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “These types of gangster practices must not be allowed to take place. People should boycott work for this company while this lasts.”

Dover Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke outside Maritime House in Dover as people protest



Labour’s Keir Starmer said: “The actions of P&O are aggressive and immoral.”

In a statement, P&O Ferries said: “The changes we have made bring us into line with standard industry practice.” It aimed to resume sailings “in the next day or two” and any day, at who was out of business losing £1million.

Mr Shapps and Mr Kwarteng originally sent their strongly worded letters to the wrong person, Robert Woods, who resigned as chairman of P&O in December. They then had to redirect the letters to Peter Hebblethwaite.

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