“Whether it is cuts to pay, fire & rehire or cultures of bullying or harassment, urgent action is required to ensure that everyone can have a dignified work life.”Jon Trickett MP
By Jon Trickett MP
For most people, being treated, and treating others, with dignity and respect is a core moral value which ties our social fabric together. When you go to school, to see your doctor or go out in your community, you do not expect to be insulted or for people to take advantage. This should also extend to your place of work, but for most it simply doesn’t.
Chronic low wages, precarious employment and reduced rights at work have all contributed to the fact that dignity and fairness at work is the exception to the rule. We only have to look around at the industrial actions currently happening across the country to see that many big employers are perfectly happy to sack people en masse, cut pay or engage in fire and rehire tactics in order to maximise profits for shareholders.
The appalling actions of P&O exemplify this.
800 P&O workers were sacked, over zoom, without any notice or consultation. P&O had already made plans to replace these workers with cheaper labour from abroad with hourly earnings reportedly as low as £1.80 an hour.
The P&O boss even openly admitted to breaking the law in doing this, but claimed it was “easier” to ignore the law rather than consult.
Fortunately, this is a sector which is unionised, and the workforce, supported by their unions the RMT and Nautilus, fought back. Their action is one of the last protections from similar fire and rehire tactics elsewhere across the country. They are fighting for dignity and fairness at work, for us all. We should all show them solidarity, just like the dockers at Rotterdam have done by refusing to load freight onto a P&O ship a few days ago.
Let’s be clear, this is not simply one rogue boss.
These practices are not limited just to P&O, over the last several years workers have faced an assault on their pay, terms and conditions by employers attempting to ‘fire and rehire’ their staff on more exploitative contracts.
Some of the biggest employers in the country have been at it. British Gas, British Airways, Tesco, Sainsburys, Argos, Weetabix and Jacobs Douwe Egberts have all been in dispute with their workers over fire and rehire.
There is a culture of taking workers for granted and driving down conditions, which has been at play in many workplaces for the past decade or more. Of course, there are good employers out there who do see the value in their workforce but because the laws on workers’ and trade union rights are so weak, it has allowed bad employers to become emboldened and take appalling action as we have seen with P&O.
But it’s not just about the workers. It’s also about those who use the service. Already, two P&O ferries have failed safety inspections and have been detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. And it has now emerged that back in 2012 a report highlighted how increasing the shift times to 15 days on board, rather than one week on, one week off, could lead to very serious safety consequences.
And now, P&O are refusing to reinstate the 800 workers it fired over zoom because they say they cannot afford it. Yet, P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite has said he has no plans to cut his £325k salary.
With the worst cost of living crisis since the 1950s, attitudes like this are a slap in the face to hard working people who face rising inflation, falling pay and weakened public infrastructure as a result of austerity and deindustrialisation.
There is of course a solution to the P&O crisis, which is to take the company into public ownership. Public transport on our waters should be in public hands. The TUC has said the Government must be ready to run ferry services as the operator of last resort, if a ‘fit and proper’ operator cannot be found. However this does not have to mean a top down nationalisation. It could mean allowing local authorities to take charge of the services and investing in local ports and coastal towns which have for decades been held back.
And we need new legislation to outlaw exploitative labour practices and to empower our trade unions to defend their members’ interests. However, the government’s response has been weak and fails to acknowledge that these practices are systematic across workplaces.
What is clear though is that we must restore dignity to the workplace. Whether it is cuts to pay, fire and rehire or cultures of bullying or harassment, urgent action is required to ensure that everyone can have a dignified work life.
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