“I urged Ministers to intervene as a matter of urgency, to seize the ships, take over P&O as the operator of last resort, reinstate the workforce and get passenger and goods moving.”Andy McDonald MP
By Andy McDonald MP, Labour MP for Middlesbrough
P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite’s astonishing admission that he knowingly decided to break the law of the land and not consult with unions over intended dismissals took my breath away.
So now we have the admission, it’s over to Government to come up with an immediate and hard hitting response and swingeing legal consequences for Peter Hebblethwaite personally as he should never serve as a company director ever again, but also P&O itself and it’s parent company, the Dubai-based DPWorld.
Ministers have been asleep at the wheel. Secretary of State Grant Shapps was told by DP World when he visited Dubai on 23rd November last year that P&O were in trouble and would have to make major changes and he’s done precisely nothing about it. He should have been more inquisitive. P&O represents a vital piece of our trading and commercial infrastructure.
There are clear concerns about P&O’s commercial viability as confirmed by their Chief Executive and as a result of his actions there are now concerns about the safety of the vessels given the massive loss of expert and trained staff well-used to navigating the busiest shipping lane in the world.
I urged Ministers to intervene as a matter of urgency, to seize the ships, take over P&O as the operator of last resort, reinstate the workforce and get passengers and goods moving.
It escaped nobody’s attention that P&O did not mete out such barbaric treatment to their French and Dutch workers quite simply because their employment laws protect them where UK laws do not do the same for British workers.
If this goes without correction and appropriate and heavy punishment other operators will feel compelled to follow suit and it will be the death knell for any residual UK maritime workforce. We were supposed to be trying to get people into the maritime sector and if this isn’t corrected as a matter of urgency, we can forget all about getting British workers into the sector.
I’d like to think that P&O are quaking in their boots at the thought of feeling the full force of UK law but quite clearly they couldn’t give a damn. They need to be given a rude awakening. Breaking the law has been factored into their clandestine scheme and paying off the workforce is simply the price of doing business as far as they’re concerned.
This dreadful business lays bare the weakness of our employment laws and government needs to bring forward corrective legislation to protect workers and punish this rogue employer. P&O needs to be rocked to its foundations. But this shameful episode makes it all the more relevant and urgent that we have a Labour government that will transform the world of work, treat people with dignity and respect, address the imbalance of power and repeal the pernicious Trade Union laws and let our trade unions do their jobs and bargain for and protect their members.
I set out the prescription in Labour’s Employment Rights Green Paper, ‘A New Deal for Working People’, and todays events only serve to underscore how relevant and desperately needed it is.