For international trade union action against P&O sackings!

The Labour Left Alliance totally condemns the sacking by P&O of its entire British crew of 800 seafarers, and calls on trade unionists and activists to support any and all actions that further their claim for reinstatement.

The seafarers were fired illegally by a pre-recorded video message after the vessels had been ordered back to port,  causing unscheduled cancellations for booked passengers, and without the established procedures, to be replaced with agency staff who are not subject to national or EU workers’ rights and earn as little as £2.60 an hour. Disgracefully at the time of the sackings agency workers were already waiting on buses to replace the sacked workers.  Staff who initially refused to leave the ships were threatened with the possibility of being ejected by “handcuff-trained” security staff who were also allegedly carrying tear gas.

 Many of the workers, unlike the agency staff,  have decades of experience and this raises serious safety concerns for the operation of the ferries, at least two of which have already been detained in ports due to safety concerns. One Navigation Officer who lost his job told the Belfast Telegraph (March 18).“While all the new crew on board now are certified”, he said, “normal procedure is that when there’s any change on a ship, there’s a familiarisation period to go through. With someone who is familiar, they’re able to show people around. This time there’s been no official handover.”

Even Agency workers have been reported walking off the job in disgust.

The crocodile tears and assurances of the Tory government mean nothing. Their main concern is the undue haste and the ‘insensitivity’ of P&O rather than the sackings themselves. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, has expressed his “deep concern” over the legality of the sackings, not the sackings themselves.

The Tory government are only interested in the wealth of the few and their rich mates; they will give little other than bluster and fine words; the Labour Party under Starmer give no lead at all; even the TUC  have restricted their ‘protests’ largely to making plaintive appeals to the Tory government.

P&O are owned by DP World, a large multi-national company owned by the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Dubai, who reported a revenue of $11bn in 2021 – an increase of 26% –  where trade unions are banned and workers’ rights are severely restricted. Yet they cannot even be trusted to keep staff pensions secure and are the subject of a current investigation by the Pensions Regulator regarding their failure to pay a £146m deficit.  

We condemn the cavalier practices of P & O, conducted entirely in the interests of private profit.  Their actions represent a ferocious attack on the entire trade union movement and, were it to set a precedent, threaten hard won working conditions and living standards. It must be defeated. Only the pressure of the labour movement and the threat of the loss of votes will achieve anything. Rallies have already been held in in Dover, Hull and Liverpool and there will be more. The main union involved, the National Union of Rail Maritime and Transport Workers, RMT, should be given the full backing of the labour and trade union movement. The RMT, Nautilus and other unions organised protests in Dover, Hull, Liverpool andLondon within 24 hours of the news of the mass sacking. All actions of the RMT, including if necessary, occupying ships and ports, should be supported by the full weight of the trade union movement, financially and in terms of industrial action. There needs to be at the very least a complete blockade and boycott of all P&O services.

In reality, a rational and planned transport sector, one that functioned in the interests of the whole population, could only be based on one that involves the public ownership of the whole ferry sector, as well as ports and associated facilities. As long as these are operated for the enrichment of a tiny minority of people, including wealthy overseas owners, they will not serve the interests of the population as a whole.

P&O could be a watershed for the whole labour and trade union movement, a call for the ending of the onslaught on living standards for working people. Only recently  we have seen an attempt to use of Fire-and-Rehire tactics against workers at British Gas and Weetabix. 

The time for a militant fightback, in the political and industrial spheres, is here.We call on activists to support protests and other actions taken by P&O workers in defence of their jobs. 

Please take resolutions to union and other political organisation calling for –  

  • a commitment to supporting P&O workers through a democratically decided financial contribution to a hardship fund, if one exists
  • for the TUC to help organise an international mass campaign with other trade unions against this mass sacking as well as other attacks on workers (including Fire and Rehire tactics)
  • for the UK Parliament to repeal the anti-trade unions laws and restore the right of workers to take solidarity industrial action is support of other workers.
  •  the nationalisation of P&O Ferries, under the democratic control of workers, with no compensation to DP World
  •  for the reinstatement of Clause IV into the constitution of the TUC “to secure for the producers, by hand or by brain, the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”