P&O Ferries: SSP in full solidarity with maritime workers.

By Richie Venton, SSP Workplace Organiser

800 workers have today been sacked on the spot by P&O Ferries bosses, to be replaced by cheap overseas labour.

This is the most obscene example of capitalist thuggery in my memory.

The mass sackings were announced to staff by video message, where the P&O boss declared:

“Going forward, the vessels will be primarily crewed by a third-party provider. Therefore, your employment is terminated with immediate effect, on grounds of redundancy. Your final day of employment is today”.

By video message!

There was absolutely no prior warning of this devastation to crews affected. There were absolutely no prior discussions, let alone negotiations, with the unions, RMT and Nautilus. It was literally a case of being sacked on the spot.

Even the claim in the video announcement about it being “on grounds of redundancy” seems to me not just an immoral lie, but illegal. A redundancy situation is where the job disappears, not the person doing it. But this is not the case here.

In several of the ports – at least Hull and Dover – van loads of cheap labour crews, reportedly from Columbia, were today simultaneously lined up at the vessels to replace the workers being sacked.

Premeditated Thuggery

This corporate thuggery was brutally premeditated. Whilst P&O bosses never consulted the unions nor gave their workers any notice, they put out a call through a security company several days before, mobilising security guards to turn up to evict crew members and install replacement cheap labour.

In a document I have been sent, here’s a taste of the methods deployed:

“You have been selected to deploy on a task in Dover that will be fairly high profile. This task will run for one week… on 16th you will have a day’s training. On the 17th you will be dispatched by coach to Dover docks to assist the client in their delivery… the client requires 16 Interforce Officers (handcuff trained) to support their security teams in the unlikely event some of their staff become challenging.

“Essentially, our clients will be informing staff of redundancies and there is a possible risk of backlash … you will need your Interforce uniform including cuffs and utility belt…”

They hired mercenaries to enforce P&O’s capitalist thuggery. If this had happened abroad, the Tory government would be joining a chorus line of condemnation about dictatorship and breach of civil liberties… unless it was in a country they were arming to the teeth, like Saudi Arabia.

Here, they have created the atmosphere for such outrageous attacks on workers, with physical force deployed, and enforced laws to try and stop workers defending their rights.

Profiteering from Cheap Labour

P&O pathetically try to justify their thuggery by pleading poverty. In fact, P&O was bought over for a second time by Dubai based DP World for £133million. The parent company, DP World, just last week announced a 26.3% increase in their revenues, and $3.8billion profits for 2021.

They are also up to their neck in the first of the notorious Tory freeports in the UK, in London. Now they’re trampling over the rights of workers to impose cheap labour to turbocharge their grotesque profit margins even higher.

The RMT Union quite rightly advised members to stay put on the vessels rather than just be evicted from their jobs in favour of cheap labour replacements. P&O bosses sent in the security guards with handcuffs, at least in Dover and Larne.

The entire trade union movement needs to rally round these trade unionists fighting for the most basic workers’ rights against the corporate savagery of a company which was granted £33million in government funding when they pleaded poverty during COVID-19, in May 2020.

Action in defence of the crews needs to be urgently mobilised by the union leaderships, particularly in the port areas, and through the international transport union federation.

And this grotesque episode highlights the case for booting out the profiteers from the vital services of passenger ferries and freight, through public ownership of the entire shipping and transport industry, under democratic workers’ control.

The Scottish Socialist Party is in full solidarity with crews fighting back, and on standby to build supportive action to stop the spread of cheap, super-exploited labour for the sake of the profiteering sharks in the shipping industry and beyond.