UK cabinet ministers were made aware of imminent sackings on the part of P&O Ferries, which resulted in the loss of over 800 jobs between Britain and Ireland, and did nothing to prevent them, a leaked Ministry for Transport memo has revealed.
On 17 March, P&O officials, using pre-recorded videos, announced the sacking (on the dubious grounds of redundancy) of over 800 of its ferry staff. Following this, security personnel (many of whom were specifically selected to deal with the situation as they had received handcuff training) were deployed to the vessel, to quell any possible backlash from disgruntled employees.
Demonstrations by sacked workers and those standing in solidarity with them have been held across the UK and 6 counties, such as London, Dover, Liverpool, and Larne. Present at some demonstrations were members of parties that have over the last year voted against improved protections for workers that could have prevented such firings. At Dover, Conservative MP Natalie Elphick faced heckling from union officials for her parties 2021 voting against a banning of firing and rehiring. At Larne, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson posed for photo ops behind banners of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), expressing his shock and solidarity with sacked workers, despite his party having voted against the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which would have granted unions in the 6 counties considerably more power to defend their members, only the month before.
These sackings are not however, as has been claimed by some commentators, a result of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Despite the fact that French workers have not been sacked in the same manner (a fact touted as the ultimate “gotcha”), that is a result of stronger employment protections that they have in spite of their EU membership. Fire and rehire schemes, the import and exploitation of cheap migrant labour, primarily from Eastern Europe (migrants brought in to replace P&O staff are currently being paid well below the minimum wage) is something that the EU actively encourages, and has done for decades. What has made the sackings possible is the gutting of trade unions in the UK and 6 counties, and the subsequent stripping of employment rights that has been pursued wholesale since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. If the present trend of the decimation of unions continues, we can expect more and more mass-layoffs such as this to come.