P&O Ferries cannot be allowed to show such a flagrant disrespect for our Parliament
I have been in Parliament for coming up to half a decade. I have chaired the Business, Energy and Industrial Select Committee for over two years. I have never seen such a flagrant disrespect for our Parliament than during our emergency committee session with P&O Ferries today.
It is now imperative that the government take action against P&O Ferries, DP World and its senior management and bring forward reforms to ensure that company bosses can never wilfully break the law in the way that P&O Ferries has again.
During our joint Business and Transport Committee hearing with P&O Ferries, ministers, trade unions, government agencies and legal experts it quickly became clear that, whilst the law needs updating, P&O Ferries proactively decided to break the law.
They decided they could just pay their way out of breaking the law by paying off their sacked workers
They decided not to consult with trade unions or workers about their plans to sack them all – when they should have done. They decided not to notify ministers, be that in the UK or where various P&O Ferries are registered (in Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas) – when they should have done.
They decided they could just pay their way out of breaking the law by paying off their sacked workers, only if those workers agreed to sign away their legal rights and agreed to stay silent. And to make it worse? They said they would do it all again.
I’ve seen company bosses treat employees aggressively and disrespectfully in the past – be it AstraZeneca when they refused to pay pensions to their former workers, which I managed to overturn, or the actions taken by Melrose against GKN workers or the aggressive use of fire and rehire legislation by British Airways and Centrica British Gas.
But in all of those circumstances, they at least consulted with trade unions and employees. In all of those circumstances, they at least had a legal argument that, even if questionable, could stand up. In this case, P&O Ferries didn’t bother and its owner, DP World, signed off on the proposals and paid silencing money used to lock sacked workers into a position where they can't enforce their legal rights.
The government has promised an employment rights bill for many years. It was due in the last Queen’s Speech, but it was delayed once again. Whether on fire and rehire or the ability for the government to bring action against shameless criminals who feel able to laugh at Parliament whilst taking their performance-related bonuses, it’s clear that ministers have no choice but to make sure an employment rights bill is in the next Queen’s Speech.
Ministers roundly condemned Centrica British Gas and British Airways for their use of fire and rehire laws – but did nothing about it. Ministers are roundly condemning the actions of P&O Ferries.
This time they can and must do something about it. Let’s see immediate action against P&O Ferries and let’s see that employment rights bill in the Queen’s Speech in a few weeks’ time.
Darren Jones is the Labour MP for Bristol North West and chair of the BEIS Select Committee.
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