Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has urged Brits to ‘vote with their feet’ and avoid P&O Ferries after they sacked 800 of their staff without notice last week.
Speaking to the Times, Shapps said: ‘I expect many customers, passengers and freight will quite frankly wish to vote with their feet and where possible choose another operator’.
The minister was joined in his condemnation of the scandal-hit ferry operator by his opposite number, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, who said that the minister should ‘immediately begin criminal action’ against the firm.
Ms Haigh said that the firm felt it could act ‘with impunity when it comes to respecting our employment rights’
P&O Ferries £1.82-an-hour foreign agency workers from India, the Phillipines and war-hit Ukraine were pictured being transported to the scandal-hit operators ships in Dover yesterday.
The workers have been brought in to replace 800 sacked staff – with some of the temps living in tents to save cash.
Labour MP Karl Turner said they were expected to work mammoth 12-hour shifts for eight weeks at a time.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union say they are earning less than the £8.91 minimum wage, with one secretary claiming they got as little as £1.82.
Poorly-paid agency workers were pictured being transported to P&O Ferries ships in Dover
Workers from India, the Phillipines and war-hit Ukraine were pictured being taken to work
The moored ship used fishing boats to transport its new workforce – after sacking 800 staff
And this morning the union representing the hundreds of sacked staff said the Dubai-owned company had ‘imported’ foreign workers to fill the jobs.
RMT Secretary-General Mick Lynch said: ‘They should face the severest sanctions possible and if needs be the government must use it’s powers which it has used oligarchs later and this is oligarch from Dubai, the sultan of Dubai, that has caused this to happen and we have got to see a direct intervention today about what they are going to do
‘These people are coming over here racing their horses they are taking over logistic travel across the world.
‘We think they are importing Indian workers, Filipinos and Ukrainians at the moment to work on these vessels.
Labour MP Karl Turner said they were expected to work mammoth 12-hour shifts in some cases
People protest outside the offices of DP World, who own P&O Ferries, after the company fired hundreds of employees
The P&O ferry the Pride of Kent moored at the Port of Dover in Kent on Friday last week
‘That cannot be acceptable. We cannot dismiss our people to bring in other people on a discount rate.
‘We were due to have a meeting with the business on Friday, then on Thursday they sacked all our members.’
Mr Turner said in an interview yesterday: ‘What P&O has accepted previously in meetings with me and the RMT, they’ve said $2.40 an hour (£1.82).
‘That was only admitted by them because we got some correspondence from the P&O management a couple of years ago which was leaked to the RMT.
‘We produced those documents to ministers at the time. It’s grotesquely exploitative.
‘On the Pride of Rotterdam, they work eight weeks on and two weeks off,’ he said. ‘They do 12-hour shifts with a short break to eat.
‘They can’t afford to get decent accommodation.
‘They get terrible multioccupancy-type accommodation in Hull, very often staying in hostels for about £9 a night.
‘Some have been known to pitch tents for a fortnight.’
In 2019, P&O Ferries reflagged its ships from Britain and they are now registered in countries including Cyprus and The Bahamas.
Downing Street condemned the way P&O Ferries informed 800 staff they were being sacked to be replaced with cheaper agency workers.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said maritime minister Robert Courts had raised the issue with the company’s chief executive.
People protest outside the offices of DP World, who own P&O Ferries in London on Friday
Unions threaten legal action and lawyers suggest workers could bring unfair dismissal claims
‘The way these workers were informed was completely unacceptable,’ the spokesman said.
‘Clearly the way that this was communicated to staff was not right and we have made that clear.
‘Our sympathies are with these hard-working employees affected during this challenging time who have given years of service to P&O.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the company’s actions ‘disgusting’.
‘It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting,’ he told BBC Radio Humberside.
‘This is a company that had furlough during the Covid crisis. It is absolutely disgusting what they are trying to do. They mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.
‘I just wish the Government had done what we said and strengthened employment rights so they couldn’t do this kind of thing.
‘The Government said it was going to deal with this sort of situation. It hasn’t done it.’
Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has described the sacking of the 800 P&O workers as ‘disgraceful’.
In a statement to the Assembly, Mr Lyons said: ‘At the outset let me be clear; neither I, as a constituency representative in East Antrim or as Minister of the Economy, nor my officials in the department, were afforded the courtesy of advanced notice of the P&O announcement.
‘I regard their actions as disgraceful. P&O has literally ripped up the employment rule book, and, in the process, simply discarded 800 of their loyal and most diligent workforce.
‘Even now, I can scarcely believe how callously they behaved.
‘I understand that there could be up to 50 staff from Northern Ireland directly impacted by this announcement. Many of us in East Antrim know some of the workforce.
‘The stories I heard of staff being escorted off ships, by men in balaclavas, carrying handcuffs, was as sinister as it was outrageous.
‘Deploying such a tactic here, in Northern Ireland, to an unsuspecting workforce is so ill-judged and shocking, our condemnation alone is simply not enough.’
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said that employment law is a devolved responsibility within Stormont.
He added: ‘I have heard much made about the financial situation within P&O; I have some sympathy with any business operating in these challenging times.
‘But that does not mean they can just break the law.
‘The law actually recognises that businesses may need to restructure or downsize, and that has happened many times before.
‘Our laws allow for that, but recognise there is a process to be followed. They make clear in regulation, what that process involves.
‘So, I do not believe P&O have acted either within the spirit, or the letter, of our employment law.’