Trade unions are today (Tuesday) demanding the business secretary names a date for the government’s long-overdue employment bill in the wake of the P&O Ferries scandal.
General secretaries from the TUC and more than thirty unions including RMT, Nautilus, Unite, Unison and GMB have written to Kwasi Kwarteng, calling on the government to strengthen employment legislation and make sure the P&O scandal is never allowed to happen again.
The government first promised an employment bill more than two years ago, which was supposed to boost workers’ rights and make Britain the best place to work in the world.
The TUC says that while P&O Ferries’ actions appear to be unlawful, these events show that UK employment law urgently needs strengthening to properly protect workers from unfair dismissal and penalise bad employers.
In the letter, the trade unions are scalding about “the callous, illegal and pre-meditated firing of 800 workers by P&O Ferries”.
The unions go on to say that this “marks a new low point in UK industrial relations – and shows once again the weakness of our employment law framework in protecting working people”.
In addition to an employment bill to strengthen protections for workers, the general secretaries call on government to demand the immediate reinstatement of all sacked P&O staff with no loss of pay.
They say it is vital “the government now takes all steps without delay to ensure that these workers are reinstated and bring forward emergency legislation if that is required” - and demand the suspension of “any government support for the company or its parent, DP World, to secure this.”
Fire and rehire style tactics
P&O Ferries used punitive fire and rehire style tactics and exploited many of the same weaknesses in the law, according to the TUC.
The letter criticises the inadequate ministerial response to the rise of fire and rehire tactics during the pandemic, which saw the government publish updated guidance on the use of the practice.
The unions say that this week’s events have exposed the inadequacy of the guidance, which “is the flimsiest of defences against any employer who is determined to treat their workers with contempt”.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The prime minister promised to make Britain the best place to work in the world.
“But one of the most shameful moments in the recent history of UK industrial relations has happened on his watch.
“No more excuses. The government must name a date for an employment bill now.
“This scandal has shown the need for strengthened protections for workers – rogue employers need to know they can’t get away with treating staff like disposable labour.
On the urgent need to reinstate sacked P&O staff, O’Grady added:
“P&O has acted appallingly. The company must reinstate its sacked staff without delay, and with no loss of pay – or face serious consequences.”
Letter in full
Dear Secretary of State
P & O Ferries shows the need for an employment bill now
The whole trade union movement has been appalled by the callous, illegal and pre-meditated firing of 800 workers by P&O Ferries. This marks a new low point in UK industrial relations – and shows once again the weakness of our employment law framework in protecting working people.
It is vital that the government now takes all steps without delay to ensure that these workers are reinstated and bring forward emergency legislation if that is required. The government must demand that P&O Ferries meets with unions now to secure this, and take all necessary steps, including suspending any government support for the company or its parent, DP World to secure this.
This must also be a turning point in UK employment relations. The union movement has been demanding action on fire and rehire style practices which seek to bypass and exploit the lack of penalties for employers who ignore the law to slash terms and conditions and recoup costs off the back of workers. We need stronger collective consultation rights and remedies and better protection for workers against unfair dismissal. As yet all the government has offered is stronger guidance; as this week’s events have shown, this is the flimsiest of defences against any employer who is determined to treat their workers with contempt.
This government promised two years ago that it would legislate to protect and improve workers’ rights. The time for that legislation is long overdue – but late is better than never. We ask you to now set a date to bring forward an employment bill that will outlaw these outrageous practices once and for all.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet you to discuss how to make progress,
Frances O’Grady, TUC
Mick Lynch, RMT
Mark Dickinson, Nautilus
Christina McAnea, Unison
Sharon Graham, Unite
Gary Smith, GMB
Roy Rickhuss, Community
Dave Ward, CWU
Mick Whelan, Aslef
Patrick Roach, NASUWT
Dave Penman, FDA
Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, NEU
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ
Ged Nichols, Accord
Mike Clancy, Prospect
Larry Flanagan, EIS
Brian Linn, Aegis
Manuel Cortes, TSSA
Tim Rose, Nationwide Group Staff Union
Paul W Fleming, Equity
Captain Martin Chalk, BALPA
Jo Grady, UCU
Steve Gillan, POA
Paul Donaldson, HCSA
Michele Gregson, NSEAD
Steve Jamieson, Royal College of Podiatry
Paddy Lillis, USDAW
Mark Serwotka, PCS
Chris JR Kitchen, NUM
Richard Evans, Society of Radiographers
Naomi Pohl, Musicians Union
Jon Skewes, RCM
-TUC calls for an employment bill:
The union body says ministers must use an employment bill to:
In addition, the TUC is calling on the government to:
The TUC is calling on P&O to reinstate all sacked staff immediately, with no loss of pay. If it fails to do so, the TUC says P&O should face severe consequences.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
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