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Sunday, October 2, 2022

‘There were grown men in tears’: P&O crews stunned by sackings | Shipping industry

Sacked P&O workers have spoken of their devastation after they unexpectedly lost their jobs on Thursday, warning that the redundancies will wreak major damage on a local community in which many people’s livelihoods depend on the shipping company.

Employees were angry that P&O had delivered the message in an online meeting, and dismayed that handcuff-trained security guards were employed to take crew members off ships. They said they had watched former colleagues, who had woken up this morning expecting to complete a normal shift, carry their bags off ships in floods of tears.

Furious ex-staff held a demonstration close to the ports around lunchtime, but had dispersed by early afternoon amid concerns about the impact on their severance offer.

One former employee said many of his ex-colleagues were worried about how they will pay their mortgages, especially since in many households in Dover “both breadwinners” work for P&O.

One 46-year-old P&O crew member, who has worked on the decks for 30 years, said he was worried about how he would support his family with two young children. “The news still hasn’t really sunk in. There aren’t many opportunities in this area,” he said.

“There was no ‘thank you for your service’. There were grown men in tears worrying what to do about their mortgages. We’ve been treated abysmally. This was planned for ages, it’s not off the hoof,” he added.

Darren Procter, national secretary of the RMT union.
Darren Procter, national secretary of the RMT union. Photograph: Jodie Lingard/The Guardian

The three former P&O employees who spoke to the Guardian, who between them had given the company 100 years of service, asked not to be named due to P&O’s policy against speaking to the media.

Commiserating over beers in the RMT office, they were visibly distraught, but were comforted by messages of support on social media and from MPs debating the issue in parliament.

They said that the terms and conditions for the new agency jobs are so poor that they did not plan to re-apply for roles as they would not be able to support their families.

The workers also worried about the impact on safety of the crews’ rapid replacement since the new staff members have less training and experience than those they have replaced.

The new workers will be employed by an agency, and the RMT understands that employees will be paid less, with a possibility that European employees could receive below minimum wage on the Calais to Dover crossing since this operates under international maritime law, as Irish Ferries has done. They are not expected to receive sick pay or holiday.

RMT’s national secretary, Darren Procter, said he understood that P&O ferries would not operate for around a week while the new crew are trained on the ship. He added that the new crew members have signed non-disclosure agreements.

The union plans to fight the redundancies by putting pressure on ministers, including to persuade them to remove freeport status from DP World, which owns P&O, and to detain the vessels while the dispute is resolved. An initial meeting on Thursday evening did not result in any concrete action, but the shipping minister, Robert Courts, has pledged to consider next steps, he said.

The RMT also plans to continue hosting demonstrations across the UK, with one demo planned in Dover for noon on Friday. “We’re not going to stand by and watch this happen,” Procter said.

He said the union was currently exploring whether P&O’s approach, which he described as “fire and rehire”, had breached employment law.

He added it was the first time he had seen this approach in the maritime industry. “This is aggression on a different scale. These guys brought in jabs during the pandemic, and this is how they treat the staff. We’re a maritime nation, seafaring is the foundation of what we do. P&O is one of the most iconic companies in the UK,” he said.

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