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Welby and Hudson-Wilkin berate ‘sinful’ P&O management

18 March 2022


The P&O Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury in port at Dover on Friday, after P&O Ferries suspended sailings

The P&O Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury in port at Dover on Friday, after P&O Ferries suspended sailings

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has called on the UK Government to make “urgent and forceful” representations to the government of Dubai over P&O Ferries’ sacking of 800 workers in Dover yesterday, without notice and with immediate effect.

Handcuff-trained security officers were moved on board ferries to intimidate staff who refused the company’s order to leave, while agency staff recruited in Eastern Europe waited in buses to replace them. The RMT union has called the action “an all-out assault on British seafarers and trade unions”.

In a joint statement with the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Archbishop Welby said: “Ill-treating workers is not just business. In God’s eyes it is sin.

“P&O has sacked 800 people in Dover, a town dependent on shipping. Dover is a major part of the diocese of Canterbury which we serve as Bishops.

“The extraordinary move is at the command of DP World, the Dubai-based and owned parent company, which made record profits last year. The move is cynically timed for a moment when world attention is on Ukraine. Done without warning or consultation it is inhumane, treats human beings as a commodity of no basic value or dignity and is completely unethical.

“We call on Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, to prevent P&O operating until proper consultation has been carried out. Consultation will have to be done with independent oversight as all confidence in P&O management is gone. We call on the UK Government to make urgent and forceful representations to the Government of Dubai, a historic and close ally of the UK.

“It is essential that if this move cannot be prevented legally that Dover receive extraordinary financial and development assistance.”

In an emergency debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday (22 March) on P&O Ferries’ sacking of 800 workers in Dover on 17 March, Archbishop Welby said that there was a lack of clarity on the issue, and he questioned “a possibility of very sharp cuts in wages paid to the crews of these ships”.

He asked if there would be an assurance “that [the wages] will fall no further than the national minimum wage in this country? If the law does not permit that, can the law be changed?”

Archbishop Welby asked when the results of inquiries into the sackings would be made available to the House, and whether the Government would look at the “security implications” of crucial short channel crossings “being crewed by those from all over the world rather than those who are committed to the interests of this country”.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton, a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, said that she recognised the importance of the security of “really important routes”, and that she would “take it back to the Maritime Minister and ask him to consider it”.

The Nautilus International union called P&O Ferries’ action “disgraceful”, and said that it had evidence that the company had been planning to lay off all seafarers on UK routes for a long time ahead of its “scandalous action to sack all crew without consultation”.

The Shipping Minister, Robert Courts MP, told Parliament last week that the way workers had been treated was wholly unacceptable. “Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships with immediate effect, while being told cheaper alternatives would take up their roles, shows the insensitive way in which P&O have approached this issue — a point I have made crystal clear to P&O’s management when I spoke to them,” he said.

The Shadow Transport Secretary, Louise Haigh, called P&O’s actions “an assault on British seafaring”, and the manner of their sacking “a national scandal. An overseas company that has received millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, has upended the lives of 800 British workers overnight — all while the profits of their owners, DP World, soared by 52 per cent in the first half of 2021.”

The chief executive officer of Nautilus International, Martyn Gray, said that the union had received word that P&O was now attempting to put pressure on crew to accept redundancy packages immediately. This pressure included reducing the redundancy packages after seven days, and again after two weeks if they did not sign.

Nick Spencer: P&O is a case of extreme maritime sin

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