Labour accuses government of lying about knowledge of P&O mass sackings

Katie Neame
© Ballygally View Images/Shutterstock.com

Louise Haigh has argued that the government’s story on the mass sackings announced by P&O Ferries last week “does not add up” after Tory minister Paul Scully suggested the government expected a normal redundancy announcement from the company.

Asked why ministers did not see a need to contact P&O after hearing about the planned redundancies, the small business minister said: “if we’re in a situation where you say there is going to be an announcement, that normally that’s an announcement of the consultation, the notification, that is required under the law.”

The Shadow Transport Secretary tweeted a video of the minister’s response, from an appearance on Sky News this morning, writing: “They say they expected a ‘normal redundancy’ announcement i.e at least 45 days consultation.

“If that’s the case why does the internal memo reveal they were planning for “disruption to services lasting 10 days” [with] agency staff restarting routes?” Labour’s Jess Phillips retweeted Haigh’s post and wrote: “Because they are lying.”

Ministers were reportedly made aware of the planned redundancies in a memo before P&O staff were informed. The Sunday Times revealed that officials argued to ministers that the move would enable the company to “remain a key player in the UK market”.

The leaked document is thought to have been shared across government, including with the Prime Minister’s private office and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. Haigh argued last week that the memo proved ministers were “complicit” in the move.

Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds said he was “deeply unimpressed” with what he saw in the opposition day debate on P&O Ferries on Monday and with the responses from the government on the broadcast round this morning.

“I would have been suspicious straight away that something was being told – you’re the Secretary of State, and it’s the next morning, that doesn’t feel right to me in terms of the notice period.”

The Shadow Business Secretary added: “There has to be sometimes reorganisations, everyone accepts that. But there’s too much from the government right now about “Let’s help those workers find new jobs” for instance.

“Clearly, that might be important, but the priority should be saying “This is unacceptable in this country, we will not have a race to the bottom in standards”. The government promised after Brexit that wouldn’t be the case.”

Scully said if P&O were found to have acted illegally, the government “absolutely reserve the right to approach the prosecuting authorities to tackle this”.

The government minister added that if the company was not found to have acted illegally: “Obviously we want to make sure we can support the 800 people who have lost their jobs to make that they can get back into good work.

“But we’ll have to work with international partners because this is, as you say, a complex web of international maritime law when you have vessels flagged with other countries.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We need the government to answer some hard questions here, who knew what, when from the Prime Minister down.

“But critically we need action. We want those 800 workers reinstated to their jobs and given the dignity of livelihoods that they deserve.”

The TUC and more than 30 affiliate unions, including the transport union RMT and the maritime professionals union Nautilus, demanded in a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng today that he names a date for the delayed employment bill, first promised two years ago.

The TUC said that while the move by P&O Ferries appears to be unlawful, it shows that UK employment law urgently needs strengthening to protect workers from unfair dismissal and penalise bad employers.

The letter urges the government to take “all steps without delay” to ensure P&O staff are reinstated and to “bring forward emergency legislation if that is required”. It also calls for a suspension of “any government support for the company or its parent, DP World, to secure this”.

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