P&O sackings: shame on you Dubai-based owners and Elphicke!

Protest against P&O sackings
Protest against P&O redundancies: photo provided by author

P&O sackings protest in Dover

There was a big public turn-out in Dover at lunchtime on Friday 18 March, to protest the P&O sackings and to demand a U-turn from P&O Ferries. The turnout included 300 to 400 people, from across the South East, incensed by the gross injustice of instant sackings. Disgust has been expressed across all political divides in Dover district, and on social media there are calls for a boycott of P&O. Other local employers such as DFDS and Bayliss coaches have rallied round to say ex-P&O workers are encouraged to apply to them for jobs.   

Fire and re-hire

The protests in Dover (and Hull and Liverpool) were called at 18 hours notice to demand reinstatement of the P&O ferry workers dismissed the previous day by video. Crews were told of ‘redundancies’ while aware that the employer is promising to start ferries again after the weekend with new crews of cheaper agency workers on worse conditions. 

The scale of lost jobs (800 nationally, with 500+ in Dover) and the need for safe working conditions on the ferries, on which island Britain relies, has caused the Labour majors of Liverpool and Manchester to call for nationalisation of the P&O ferry fleet if P&O owners don’t listen to reason. Union leaders have demanded that the jobs be reinstated and have threatened action that includes judicial review and seizing the assets of P&O Ferries (owned by DP World, which in turn is owned by the Dubai government).

Protestors in Dover: photo supplied by author

Owned by the Dubai government

DP World is a large investor in the Thames freeport that was announced last year. For many of the sacked workers, it’s therefore difficult to believe they can rely on the supportive words of Conservative frontbench MPs, without also having huge public and union support. But this united support is growing fast and could lead to a turning point in Britain’s social history.    

The protest in Dover blocked traffic as hundreds walked peacefully from the RMT offices to the Eastern dock with the support of police liaison officers, to the tune of many supportive klaxons from drivers. 

Dover’s MP, Natalie Elphicke (whose appointment caused a number of resignations from the local Conservative party) turned up, expecting to be allowed to posture as a would-be saviour of ex P&O workers. This was not to be.

Elphicke was challenged robustly on her parliamentary record of voting to block an opposition proposal from Barry Gardiner MP to protect workers from fire and re-hire practices. She was understandably heckled away from the protest at RMT offices, with chants of “shame on you”. There is evidence from a memo circulating in Whitehall that the Government knew in advance of the sackings, so presumably Elphicke herself also saw this memo, but did not then oppose the sackings. At that time she was busy with PR statement in Kent press about how government investment in the new Whitfield IBF centre would create 650 jobs.


Speakers from all parties


There was a big public turn-out in Dover to demand a U-Turn from the P&O sackings, lunchtime Friday 18 March. The turnout included 300 to 400 people, from across the South East, incensed by the gross injustice of instant sackings.  Disgust has been expressed across all political divides in Dover district and on social media there are calls for a boycott of P&O. Other local employers such as DFDS and Bayliss coaches have rallied round to say ex-P&O workers are encouraged to apply to them for jobs.   

Powerful, cogent speakers at the rally outside offices of the RMT (Union of  Rail, Maritim and Transport Workers) Snargate Street, Dover and later at Eastern Docks included  RMT Asst Gen Sec Steve Hedley, John McDonnell MP, ex Labourshadow chancellor, Matt Wrack of Fire Brigades Union, Paul Fleming of Equity the Actors Union and Sec of the Prison Officers Union.  Also present were Louise Haigh MP, shadow Transport Secretary, who said “Businesses must not be given free rein to operate in this country while treating British workers with such contempt”.  Also present were Dover’s ex Labour PPC, Charlotte Cornell and ex Green PPC Beccy Sawbridge, other local Labour, local Green Party, TUSC and SWP campaigners and many, many furious Kent residents and voters.