‘Thrown on the scrapheap’: Fury and dismay over P&O Ferries jobs massacre

At 10.55am, the 59-year-old had a job, a home and a life on the sea he loved.

By 11.05am, after P&O Ferries summarily sacked its entire onboard crew in a pre-recorded video message, the job had gone and the home suddenly felt in the balance.

“Twenty-five years I’ve served on their f****** ships,” the grandfather-of-five from Hull said. “Twenty-five years I’ve kept their ships running and this is how they say thanks, by throwing me on the f****** scrap heap.”

What would he do? “I’ve worked ships since I was 15. What can I do? Go and man the f****** rowing boats in East Park?”

The staffer – who asked not to be named for fear of losing severance pay – was just one of hundreds of furious demonstrators who joined a protest at Hull’s King George Dock on Friday. Simultaneous demonstrations were also held in Dover and Liverpool.

Together, they articulated the sheer anger felt after P&O Ferries took the astonishing decision to axe 800 seafaring staff from its 20-ship fleet across the UK – all without notice, without consultation or, it might be reasonably said, without anything approaching common decency.

“These people have been treated like a used condom,” said Neil Dawson, a 61-year-old construction worker who joined the demonstration dressed as a ship rat. “This is a grievous attack on them, and on all workers.”

Neil Dawson joined the demonstration dressed as a ship rat

(Colin Drury/The Independent)

About 100 workers have lost their jobs here in Hull as a result of the mass sacking. They include everything from ship engineers to chefs.

The two ships they run – the Pride of Hull and the Pride of Rotterdam – run nightly between the two cities carrying up to 1,200 passengers a time. Those boats, P&O bosses says, will keep running from next week – but they will now be crewed by cheaper (read: overseas) agency staff.

“We arrived in from Rotterdam yesterday at seven in the morning, got an email at eight asking us to attend a video call at 11, and then, there he was, this bald bloke we’d never seen before on screen, telling us all to sling our hook,” another crew member of seven years said. “No one could believe it. We were all looking at each other going: ‘Can he do that? Is that allowed?’ People were crying. Literally crying.”

As the shock turned to anger on board the Pride of Hull, a mutinous crew – supported by ship captain Eugene Favier – initially refused to leave the boat. When they finally did, at around 4.30pm, many were still so dazed, they left all their possessions on board.

“You do two weeks on and then have two weeks off so you make your cabin your home, TV, photos, clothes,” the worker, a father-of-two, added. “So, we came off and it’s only later I was at home and realised all my stuff is still on board a ship I can’t get on anymore.”

It was, he added after a moment, the least of his worries. “I can live without my TV,” he said. “I don’t know how I can live if I can’t pay my mortgage.”

Sacked workers were joined at Friday’s protest by supporters and union representatives as well as former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Kingston upon Hull East Labour MP Karl Turner.

“The government should withdraw every contract [from P&O Ferries] with immediate effect,” the latter told the crowds in an especially well-received speech. “They could say, ‘You do not get another penny until every single man and woman is back working on board those ships’. The government can do a lot [to help].”

The government, for its part, has already told P&O Ferries – which is owned by the Dubai-based company DP World – it is not too late to reconsider its decision, with Boris Johnson’s spokesperson suggesting there would be “ramifications” if it did not do so.

But allusions to such action did little to placate the fury in Hull.

“It’s like something from the Eighties,” said Carl Burn, a GMB union convenor based in Hull. “This sort of behaviour has no place in the 21st century. These are lives they are ruining. Via video link.”

‘These are lives they are ruining. Via video link,’ says GMB union convenor Carl Burn

(Colin Drury/The Independent)

Pertinently, he said, Hull would not forgive P&O Ferries. “This is a seafaring city and people are furious that seafarers would be treated like this,” he said. “This isn’t an ordinary job and people here know how much respect it should come with. And they see this is the exact opposite of respect. People are here because they are furious.”

What happens next remains uncertain.

The company has said it lost £100m last year. “This is not sustainable,” a spokesperson said. “Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

But the rationale held little water with that 59-year-old worker. He pointed out – as many already have done – that DP World made some £8 billion in global revenue last year.

“What about my future?” he asked. “Who was it that decided that just didn’t matter?”

What did he hope would be the result of the protest? “I think they need to offer us all our jobs back,” he said. “With a big bonus for the emotional distress caused.”


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