P&O sackings expose the ‘sham’ of consultation with the unions – only a general strike can end attack on workers and the unions

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THE CHIEF executive of P&O Ferries, Peter Hebblethwaite, appeared before a joint hearing of the transport and business committee of MPs yesterday to answer questions about the brutal sacking of 800 workers without any notice last week.

Hebblethwaite began with the obligatory apology for the impact of the decision saying he understood the ‘anger and shock’ of workers – sack first, apologise later is the boss’s motto.

Asked about how much money the company will save by sacking workers and replacing them with low paid agency workers, Hebblethwaite said: ‘This entirely different model is about half the price of the previous model.’

When questioned about why P&O had not consulted staff before sacking them, Hebblethwaite brazenly admitted that the new way it is hiring crews is ‘a fundamentally different operating model and no union could accept our proposals’, adding, ‘I completely throw our hands up, my hands up, that we did choose not to consult.’

Knowing that no trade union in the world would immediately accept sacking 800 members, P&O decided to skip even the formalities of negotiations and went straight for the kill, with Hebblethwaite stating a ‘consultation process would have been a sham’.

In fact, Hebblethwaite revealed that the Tory government, despite being ‘shocked’ and ‘appalled’, was notified by P&O’s parent company, the Dubai-owned DP World, that they would be changing their business model in November last year.

The Tories knew in advance, if not the detail, that P&O was preparing a massive attack on its workers and were more than happy to go along with it, making a nonsense of all Boris Johnson’s outrage and claims the Tories would investigate legal action against the company and sanctioning DP World.

Already lawyers and P&O are stating that no laws were broken and the company was within its right to sack 800 workers without a moment’s notice and without the ‘sham’ of consultation.

Earlier in the hearing, MPs were told by Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), that P&O wants to ‘kill’ the merchant navy and that ‘The whole thing is a setup and the law in this country is a shambles.’

Lynch continued, saying: ‘The politicians and the lawyers in this country have watched over the past 30 years, while not only workers have been made vulnerable, but our merchant marine has been decimated and destroyed.’

He ended telling MPs: ‘That’s what P&O are aiming to achieve – to kill our merchant marine and kill our employment laws and something’s got to be done about it today.’

This begs the question what has got to be done today?

What is crystal clear is that the working class cannot rely on the courts or agreements regarding consultation to defend their jobs or wages.

P&O tore up all the cosy relationships whereby unions expected to be consulted about mass sacking and wage-cutting fire and hire plans.

No more protracted disputes like that at British Gas, where a year ago the company sacked 500 engineers who refused to sign pay-cutting new contracts while their union, the GMB, deserted them – just sack the lot of them to drive up profits for the owners and shareholders.

P&O is showing the way for every boss in the country – no more paying lip service to the sham of consulting with unions but, with the support of the Tories, smash the unions to deliver massive exploitation of workers on a scale not seen since the 19th century before trade unions were built.

The attack on the seafarers and their unions is an attack on the entire working class and the entire trade union movement.

Now is the time for the working class to act decisively by forcing the TUC to call a general strike and close down the entire country, forcing the Tories out and bringing in a workers’ government.

A workers’ government will expropriate the bosses and bankers, nationalise the major industries, placing them under the management of the working class as part of a socialist planned economy.

Carrying out socialist revolution is what must be done today.