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Sacked P&O workers to continue fight as Transport Secretary says legislation to protect them in pipeline

RMT union promises ‘more protests and more pressure on all parties to ‎deliver justice for the P&O workers’

SACKED P&O workers will keep fighting to regain their jobs after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps vowed today to introduce legislation to protect them.

Maritime union RMT promised “more protests and more pressure on all parties to ‎deliver justice for the P&O workers.” 

They protested today outside the Glasgow offices of a marine employment agency that supplied P&O with some of the low-paid overseas workers who have replaced the 800 sacked crew members.

The demonstration came as Mr Shapps wrote to P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite, telling him: “I will be bringing a comprehensive package of measures to Parliament to ensure that seafarers are protected against these types of actions in the way that Parliament and this government already intended.

“Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage.”

The measures could be unveiled on Wednesday.

Mr Shapps warned Mr Hebblethwaite that he has “one further opportunity” to reinstate the sacked workers on their previous pay  rates.

He went on: “Our package of measures will prevent the law being broken, even when knowingly attempted.

“With this point in mind, I would also suggest that the deadline imposed on seafarers to respond to your redundancy offer by March 31 is dropped.

“Given that we intend to ensure such outcomes are prevented by laws, which we will ensure that you cannot simply choose to ignore, I believe you will be left with little choice but to reverse your decision in any case.”

He also repeated his call for Mr Hebblethwaite to resign, describing his position as “untenable” after the chief executive told MPs he had knowingly broken the law and would do so again if “necessary.”

Mr Hebblethwaite is paid £350,000 plus bonuses, while the average wage of crew members replacing the sacked workers is £5.50 an hour, far below the legal minimum wage of £8.91 an hour for workers aged 23 and over.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also called on Mr Hebblethwaite to resign.

However, RMT told the Morning Star today that it is not holding its breath, vowing that its fight to win back the workers’ jobs will continue and protests will spread, with their targets including firms in P&O’s supply chain..

Responding to Mr Shapps’s pledges, general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We have seen the correspondence between the minister and P&O, but what we want to see now is concrete action that gets our sacked members back to work providing safe services on these crucial ferry routes.

“Until that objective is secured with cast-iron guarantees our campaign continues and there will be more protests and more pressure on all parties to ‎deliver justice for the P&O workers.”

The Glasgow protest took place outside the offices of Clyde Marine Recruitment in Govan Road. 

Although the firm admits supplying P&O with some of the replacement workers, it said that it had done so before the sackings occurred and that it had no prior knowledge that they were planned.

On Friday April 8, the sacked workers are to blockade the Scottish port of Cairnryan, from which P&O operates a service to Belfast.

The government has promised new legislation to protect mariners’ jobs and wages, but it has twice voted down Labour proposals, including from MP Barry Gardiner, to outlaw the widely condemned “fire and rehire” tactic.

Mr Gardiner told the Morning Star that Mr Shapps’s letter “shows that the government has allowed corporate greed to get out of control. Tough on words but failing to take action for years to stop bullying employers and insecurity in the workplace. 

“If the government had voted for the measures in my Bill to Stop Fire and Rehire these 800 families would have been protected from the disgusting way in which P&O bosses have treated them,” he said, outlining six demands:

1. P&O Ferries should reinstate all sacked workers on the same terms as previously.
2. Peter Hebblethwaite should be disqualified as a director.
3. All shipping companies operating in British Ports should be obliged to pay at least the minimum wage.
4. DPWorld should be sacked from the governments Trade Advisory Group.
5. DPWorld should have their contracts with the government revoked.
6. Legislation should be passed to stop companies bullying workers to accept worse terms and conditions through the threat of being fired. I refer of course to the measures in my private members bill which would have provided the P&O workers with a legal right to reinstatement and addressed the contempt with which many thousands of U.K. based workers have been treated in the past couple of years.

The TUC estimates that 2.3 million workers – 10 per cent of the UK’s total workforce – are at risk from the practice.

A P&O Ferries spokesman said: “We fully welcome the government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wage for all seafarers working in British waters.

“From the outset, we have called for a level playing field when it comes to pay and conditions on British ferry routes.

“Our announcement is not about reducing seafarers’ wages, it is to enable us to have a fully flexible crewing model that allows us to meet the demands of our customers.

“The predicted savings we announced are not solely coming from the reduction in wages, but from removing job duplication and the benefits we will see from increased flexibility.”

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