One-year anniversary of P&O Ferries scandal and NPF consultation deadline

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of the P&O Ferries scandal, when the company made almost 800 of its staff redundant with immediate effect in favour of agency staff – to outcry from politicians and across the labour movement. Speaking at the time, Labour’s Louise Haigh denounced the move as a “scandalous action” and a “betrayal of the workers that kept this country stocked throughout the pandemic”. The Shadow Transport Secretary said: “The Conservative government must not give the green light to this appalling practice and must act to secure the livelihoods of these workers.” The ferry operator’s chief executive later admitted that the company broke the law by failing to consult unions “in good time” ahead of announcing the mass sackings. Addressing the Commons later in March, then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described the incident as “shameful”, adding: “No British worker should be treated in this way, devoid of dignity and respect.” He said the government was bringing forward a package of measures that will “force” P&O to “fundamentally rethink its decision” and “send a clear message to the maritime industry that we will not allow this to happen again”.

Commenting today, Paul Nowak said the incident “should have marked a new chapter for employment rights in the UK” but argued that ministers have “failed working people and given rogue employers a free pass to act with impunity”. The TUC general secretary said: “Despite behaving like corporate gangsters, P&O Ferries has been allowed to get away scot-free because of our lax labour laws. Instead of boosting worker protections and closing legal loopholes, ministers sat on their hands and did next to nothing.” It was revealed in August last year that P&O would not face criminal proceedings over the incident, with the Insolvency Service concluding that there was “no realistic prospect of a conviction”. The TUC has also highlighted the inadequacy of the governments seafarers’ wages bill – introduced in the wake of the scandal and intended to ensure seafarers get paid the national minimum wage – and argued that ministers have “done little to close the legal loopholes P&O Ferries exploited”.

Marking today’s anniversary, we have a piece from RMT general secretary Mick Lynch on the mass sackings, which he describes as “one of the darkest episodes in the recent history of employment rights in Britain”. He urges Labour to deliver on its new deal for working people, writing: “Too often, companies like P&O Ferries, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead or, for that matter, Royal Mail listen to only one voice: those of the City shareholders who control what they do with their cash. If we have the freedom to organise, negotiate and collectively bargain, we can reach agreements with employers quicker and stop this race to the bottom.” The union leader calls on London mayor Sadiq Khan to deliver on the deal’s pledge on insourcing public services now, by bringing 2,000 cleaners who work on the London Underground in house. “That would show Labour is serious about the new deal for working people and mark a break with the economics of the P&O boardroom,” Lynch writes.

In internal Labour news, the party’s national policy forum (NPF) consultation closes today. Since January 30th, Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), branches, trade unions and other stakeholders have had an opportunity to submit comments to six policy consultations: delivering growth; the everyday economy; empowered communities; prevention, early intervention and better public services for all; supporting families; and Labour’s progressive trade policy. NEC member Ann Black told LabourList that the current stage is “far less important” than the next stage, where only NPF representatives can submit amendments to the documents that will form the manifesto platform, adding that “there is really no effective democratic mechanism for CLPs to engage with this”. Draft policy documents will be published by May 9th, and each NPF member will then be able to submit up to five amendments by June 5th. The NPF will then meet for a long weekend from July 21st to 23rd to discuss the papers and amendments, with votes on any remaining differences. Party conference in October will then vote on the policy platform put forward by the NPF. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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