RMT protest in London against P&O sackings on 21 March. Photo: Paul Mattsson
RMT protest in London against P&O sackings on 21 March. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Josh Asker, Enfield and Lea Valley Socialist Party

Having already sacked 800 workers to hire cheaper replacements, P&O Ferries has now sought to cut pay further! When P&O bosses wielded the axe in March, they expected disruption to only last ten days. Over a month later, and the ‘Spirit of Britain’ vessel has only just been cleared by authorities to resume the Dover-Calais route.

This vessel and a number of other P&O ships, staffed by new, unfamiliar seafarers, have also been detained by authorities due to safety concerns.

Newly employed workers had been brought in on temporary contracts to replace existing seafarers organised in the RMT union. By doing so, bosses hoped to smash the union and join other ferry operators in employing seafarers on less than the minimum wage. Facing attacks themselves, the new workers are approaching the union for help. Under pressure, the latest attempted pay cut has been reversed.

Drive for profit

Transport minister Grant Shapps has muttered some mealy-mouthed words about enforcing the minimum wage in the industry. But ports bosses have described this as “unworkable”. What they mean is “less profitable”.

P&O Ferries bosses’ latest attacks, and the provocative admission that they knowingly broke the law, show what lengths bosses will go to boost their profits. No doubt they are emboldened by the bosses’ Tory government acting in their interests, safe in the knowledge they will not be seriously challenged.

The P&O scandal demonstrates the consequences of profit-driven capitalism. Competition between ferry operators creates a brutal race to the bottom for pay, terms and conditions, and safety standards. The Socialist Party campaigns for P&O Ferries to be nationalised under democratic workers’ control and management, along with the other major ferry operators. By doing so, seafarers working from Britain’s ports could be paid a decent wage and safety be ensured.