Massive layoffs at ferry company P&O reveal weak UK employment law

During a demonstration against the dismissal of 800 workers from the British ferry company P&O, in Dover, England, on March 18.

Thursday March 17, 800 British employees of the P & O ferry company learned through a pre-recorded video that they were all dismissed with immediate effect. Almost a week later, on Wednesday March 23, the British company’s ferries providing the crucial link between Calais and Dover were still docked, and this brutal announcement continues to make waves in the United Kingdom. Demonstrations follow one another – in Dover, Hull, Liverpool or London – and the Labor opposition rebukes the Conservative government of Boris Johnson to act to strengthen labor law that is not protective enough.

“Thursday, we learned that we had to bring the boats back to the dock and wait for an announcement from the company. Colleagues told me they saw security guards on the platform, I tell them not to let them get on”says Philip Lees, member of Nautilus, one of the main unions of British naval officers, and also dismissed on March 17. “At 11 a.m., a director of human resources made the announcement on [la messagerie] Teams, teams had five minutes to leave the ship, the security personnel were aggressive, they had handcuffs. It was brutal, planned as a military operation. I was shocked and very angry”testifies this employee, who devoted thirty-three years of his career to P & O.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers P&O Ferries lays off 800 British sailors

Since then, Mr. Lees like hundreds of colleagues have marched to demand their reintegration and the banning of the practice, prohibited elsewhere in Europe, of “fire and re-hire” – dismissal with subsequent rehiring, under much less advantageous conditions (the employer only needs to prove degraded economic conditions). “P&O is already offering the officers it has just made redundant, but on a subcontract basis, with degraded working and salary conditions and a contract under Maltese law”ensures the World Mark Dickinson, the general secretary of Nautilus. “In 2021, a legislative change was attempted [par les travaillistes]but the conservative majority opposed it”he says.

“Security worries us”

Another weakness of British legislation: “The minimum wage requirement for ferry and cargo workers, regardless of their nationality and flag, was only adopted in 2020, and there are still too many seafarers who are just paid that minimum wage “, says James Stockbridge, a naval officer employed by another company who came to parade in solidarity with the ex-P & O, in London, Monday, March 21. Not to mention that this law only applies to British territorial waters.

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