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Editorial: P&O sackings are a textbook example of 21st-century monopoly capitalism

IT’S hard to imagine a more callous, arrogant and ignorant redundancy notice than the one delivered on Zoom by P&O human resources director Andy Goode to 800 employees on Thursday.

Callous, because it demonstrated no appreciation of the devastating consequences of his announcement for so many workers and their families. One fleeting, flat-voiced “sorry” doesn’t cut it. Nor was there a single offer of any assistance that might soften the blow.

But then, no expression of sympathy or solidarity could have been in the slightest sincere. 

Goode has form as a would-be but failed union-buster at Royal Mail. He and his new Dubai-based bosses couldn’t care less about the people being dumped on the scrap-heap. 

They are arrogant in their commitment to the dog-eat-dog capitalist society in which directors and shareholders come first and employees come nowhere.

However, inflicting instant mass redundancies in this way not only shows contempt for workers and their trade unions. It also flagrantly breaches every relevant provision of UK employment and redundancy law.

Legislation sets out the grounds on which redundancy can be considered fair. It specifies the necessary requirements for proper notification, consultation and discussion, including in cases involving 20-plus employees. 

Goode telling crews that “your employment is terminated with immediate effect on the grounds of redundancy” is a tautological insult. 

Redundancy was not the reason for sacking them; replacing them with more profitable, cheaper and less skilled labour is.

Was sufficient notice given to the employees concerned? Clearly not. Had their recognised trade unions been consulted? No. Have individual discussions taken place with all those being dismissed? No, not with any.

Whether this dereliction of duty arose from arrogance, ignorance or both is not yet clear. Ignorance of the law is no defence and perhaps the dismissals should be confined to the P&O Ferries human resources department. 

It’s not even clear whether the statutory HR1 notice was given to the Department of Business, Enterprise, Industry and Science. It was left to a hapless minister for transport to go through the motions of criticising P&O in the House of Commons on Wednesday and pretending that something would be done.

What could be done?

The immediate priority must be to show every possible form of solidarity with the P&O workers who are fighting for their jobs and livelihoods. We have been here before with this outfit, but this time the labour movement must win.

Secondly, any government that has pretensions to representing the interests of working people must intervene to take control of a company led by such profiteering pirates. The statute book should be thrown at the P&O directors.

Thirdly, this case should become a textbook example of what happens under 21st-century monopoly capitalism. 

Other examples include the great energy rip-off, the role played by the City of London as the world’s largest laundromat, the accumulation of vast wealth at the top accompanied by festering mass poverty down below and the pressing need to abolish Britain’s draconian anti-trade union laws and strengthen the rights of all workers.

We should beware, too, the false lessons being peddled in some predictable quarters.

Leaving the EU has not made these latest P&O sackings either possible or inevitable. UK redundancy law is the same now as before Brexit. EU law offers no protection against rampant corporate profiteering — in fact, it facilitates it by enabling the recruitment and super-exploitation of imported labour on a continental scale as a fundamental principle. 

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