Solidarity with the P&O Ferries workers

By Michael MacLeod, RMT member

It is a little over a week since P&O Ferries caused revulsion across the UK after sacking 800 seafarers via Zoom. This was the avarice of bandit capitalism laid bare and the general public recoiled in horror as the mask slipped to reveal the naked greed and callousness beneath.

Since then, P&O Ferries, owned by DP World, have blackmailed their sacked workers into signing redundancy agreements, threatening that if they do not accept by the end of the month they may get nothing. They are being made to sign terms of non-disclosure and a promise not to sue P&O Ferries.

P&O yesterday admitted in front of a Westminster select committee to breaking the law, but had calculated that it would be easier to pay a bit extra money in redundancy to sew the mouths of the sacked closed rather than consult with the trade unions as the law dictates. The CEO even had the gall to tell the select committee they broke the law and did not speak to the trade unions concerned “as they would never have agreed to what we were proposing”.

One aspect that has been lost in the complexities of this story is the more than £100 million that P&O owes to the Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund (MNRPF) – this from a company that spent over £140 million to sponsor a golf tournament last year. Whether this money will be paid into the fund will be another battle.

Both unions involved – the RMT for ratings, and officers’ union Nautilus – have been leading a fightback all week. There have been protests in every port P&O uses, with 200 people from across the trade union movement, as well as the usual avalanche of parliamentary suits, coming to Cairnryan on Tuesday.

As it stands, no services have resumed and it could be weeks before these boats finish training up their new crews.

It is believed that these crews could be getting paid as little as £1.90 an hour, with the CEO yesterday saying it would be £5.50 an hour. Crewing agencies are scouring the globe as we speak to find sailors to man these boats. They will be exploited as they will do trips either four or eight times longer than the people they are replacing for far less pay.

The knock-on effects if P&O get away with this could be devastating, as Stena will doubtless attempt the same and it will only be a matter of time before a big multinational land-based company decides it can also ignore employment law and pay off its workforce without warning.

There will be a protest at Clyde Marine Recruitment, just off Govan Road in Glasgow, on Monday 28 March at 11am as it is believed the firm provided some agency workers to man these boats.

As regional RMT organiser Gordon Martin said at Cairnryan on Tuesday: “P&O, we are coming for you, we are coming for your crewing agencies and we are coming for your supply chain.”

The government needs to seize these ships of shame. They need to ban DP World from any involvement in freeports. They need to reinstate these workers and give them back their jobs.

In the highly likely absence of any sort of meaningful government action, it will be up to trade unionists and the working class to ensure blockades of these ports if these ferries ever start to run again. There can only be one winner in this struggle and it has to be the workers.

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