Calls for P&O to reinstate crew as Labour demands end to 'scandalous' fire and rehire

20 March 2022, 22:49 | Updated: 20 March 2022, 22:52

P&O has been condemned for its mass sacking of 800 staff.
P&O has been condemned for its mass sacking of 800 staff. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Labour will bid to stage a Commons vote on Monday demanding an end to the 'fire and rehire' of staff over the "scandalous" sacking of 800 P&O Ferries workers.

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P&O Ferries has been widely condemned over its mass sacking of its entire British workforce last week, with protests held across the UK and uproar from unions and members of the government.

The company, which claims to have recorded £100m losses, is taking on cheaper labour in the form of third-party agency workers.

The move has led to calls for the Government to intervene and end the so-called 'fire and rehire' of staff, with Downing Street looking closely at whether P&O has broken any rules.

Read more: Government 'made aware' of P&O's mass sacking on Wednesday but 'didn’t tell anyone'

Read more: Explained: What has P&O done and why?

Sacked P&O workers block the Port of Dover

Labour, which has slammed the decision as "scandalous", said reports suggest the Government was made aware of the sackings before they were announced, and of the plan to use "exploitative" practices to take on cheaper employees.

Despite previously claiming to be unaware of plans to sack staff, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmed some officials had been informed by P&O, a day before it was announced.

The spokesperson said officials are investigating whether P&O Ferries broke the law, while describing the firm’s behaviour as “extreme”.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union has claimed that replacement crews are being paid less than the minimum wage as it called on the Government to intervene.

Read more: P&O sackings could be a criminal offence with an unlimited fine, says LBC's Daniel Barnett

Clip shows Zoom call where hundreds of P&O Ferries staff got fired in one go

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has described the sackings as "a line in the sand" ahead of a vote in Parliament on Monday demanding the Government outlaws fire and rehire, strengthens workers' rights, and takes action to force the company to think again.

Labour will call on the Government to suspend contracts with P&O owners DP World until the matter is resolved and remove it from its Transport Advisory Group.

Ms Haigh said that if nothing is done it will "give the green light" to other "exploitative employers".

She said Labour will "fight every step of the way for the jobs and livelihoods of these loyal workers".

"This scandalous action must be a line in the sand," she said.

"If P&O Ferries can get away with this, it will give the green light to other exploitative employers.

"It is the consequence of the Tory assault on workers' rights."

Read more: Andrew Marr: What were P&O Ferries thinking sacking 800 staff like this in the modern era?

Andrew Marr reacts to P&O Ferries sackings

She called on Tory MPs to join with Labour and vote to ban "cruel" fire and rehire for good.

"They must decide which side they are on - loyal workers in Britain or billionaires riding roughshod over rights."

Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "No matter where their party loyalties lie, MPs should do the right thing and back Labour's motion to end fire and rehire and demand the immediate reinstatement of all sacked staff.

"Ministers have spent the last few days condemning P&O's actions - now they have a chance to prove they mean it.

"P&O ferries and its owner DP World have acted without shame. We can't let them off the hook.

"MPs must send a strong signal tomorrow by backing Labour's motion. Rogue employers need to know they can't get away with treating workers like disposable labour."

Read more: 'It was horrible': P&O replacement quits on first day after discovering 800 staff sacked

A Department for Transport spokesman said it is "closely considering" its relationship with P&O Ferries, adding it has "serious concerns" that their handling may not have been within the rules.

"Ministers and officials have expressed their outrage and frustration at P&O Ferries on their decision and handling of their announcement, and are closely considering the department's relationship with the company," a spokesman said.

"The Transport Secretary has instructed a total examination of any contract in place with P&O Ferries and DP World across Government, and the department is working closely with unions, the Department for Work and Pensions and industry bodies to ensure that workers are supported and signposted to the most relevant support.

"We have serious concerns that their handling may not have followed the correct and legal processes, and strongly urge P&O Ferries to pause the changes announced, and speak with workers to repair the damage caused."