Union protests challenge sacking of 800 UK ferry workers

By Julie Crawford
April 4, 2022

DOVER, England — Hundreds of seafarers and workers from other unions joined protests here and in other ports across the country denouncing the summary dismissal of 800 workers by P&O Ferries shipping company.

In a planned union-busting assault, P&O vessels were ordered back to U.K. docks, where crews were called to a three-minute Zoom meeting March 17. Workers were told their employment was terminated on the spot, and they were being replaced. CEO Peter Hebblethwaite told the press the company will pay new crews 50% less.

Workers in several ports occupied P&O vessels, where they were set upon by company-hired goons who forced them off the ferries.

Protests called by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) took place here, in Liverpool and Hull, and in Larne, Northern Ireland. Nautilus International, a Trades Union Congress affiliate that organizes maritime professionals and officers, took part.

Four Unite union members at CHEP Pallets in Manchester, who’ve been on strike for several months, joined the Liverpool protest. CHEP striker Garry Walker said he was there “because we’ve had a lot of support. You have to share it.”

“They were sacked and treated like animals,” said Conor Price, a train conductor and one of seven RMT members who joined the Liverpool protest from Manchester Piccadilly station.

Seven striking scaffolders at the British Steel plant in Scunthorpe joined the demonstration in Hull. “We wanted to tell the P&O workers they’re not alone — just as we’ve not been!” scaffolder Kyle Jones told the Militant by phone.

P&O bosses say they’ve started to train new crews contracted from International Ferry Management.

Rather than take steps to try to organize them into the union, RMT officials have urged the government to prevent P&O ships from sailing.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps condemned the sackings and said the government will “review” its contracts with the company. He denounced P&O for sailing vessels “without having British workers.” The RMT echoes this chauvinist line, issuing calls to “Save British ferries,” and attacked P&O’s parent company, DP World, because it is Dubai-based.

“This is a repeat of the union’s stance in 2005 when officials blamed Latvian and Lithuanian workers when Irish Ferries dragged workers off the vessels operating between North Wales and Dublin,” said Communist League member Pete Clifford, who was among the Manchester rail workers to join the Liverpool protest. “We shouldn’t be looking to the government but to working people and fellow trade unionists, including fellow workers born abroad. What P&O has done is an attack on all workers and trade unionists.”