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Government confusion over how to handle sacking of 800 workers by P&O Ferries

   News / 21 Mar 2022

Published: 21 March 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


The sacking of 800 workers by P&O ferries on Friday has not only become a hot political issue, but there also appears to be confusion within government about how to handle it. On Saturday, The Telegraph and other media outlets reported that the Dubai owner of the company, DP World, was warned by ministers that its actions jeopardised the company’s key role in the Government’s flagship freeport scheme, which is aimed at turbocharging post-Brexit trade by creating low-tax zones at hubs across Britain. DP World is investing £300m in an expansion of the London Gateway - which it owns - and which would be part of the Thames freeport. DP World also owns the Port of Southampton’s deep water terminal, making it a major player in the Solent freeport. A government spokesman said: “We are working urgently to establish…whether P&O or DP World are in breach of any of the requirements on them as partners in the Thames and Solent freeports.” The Labour partyand the RMT union also called for DP World’s involvement in Government contracts, including the freeport schemes, to be scrapped. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned P&O that it may have breached its legal duties by failing to inform him in advance of the sackings. Kwarteng demanded the firm answer a series of questions by 5pm tomorrow. Yesterday, however, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said DP World should not be blocked from involvement in the UK’s freeports. The firm’s behaviour was “appalling” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, but that the involvement in the freeport scheme was separate matter. Southampton Itchen’s MP Royston Smith has also warned about “jumping the gun”. The Tory backbencher said DP World had acted “despicably” but added that any move to exclude it from freeports would simply put “even more jobs at risk”. The proposed £2bn Solent Freeport scheme has the potential to create more than 25,000 jobs for the region, while the £4.5bn Thames Freeport is intended to create more than 21,000 jobs. However, a fresh clash with ministers beckons as P&O is now refusing to guarantee the job security of its remaining 2,200 UK workers. There are also concerns about a deficit in P&O’s pension fund, to which the company has not made any voluntary contributions since 2006. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps meanwhile has warned P&O that it will not be able to resume sailing between the UK and France until the new crews the firm has quickly hired have cleared safety checks by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
 
The Labour Party will force an emergency vote in Parliament today to demand the Government outlaws the so-called ‘fire and rehire’ of staff. The TUC is also demanding the government introduce legislation to prevent firing and re-hiring. General secretary Frances O’Grady said ministers should “urgently bring forward an employment bill to stop workers from being treated like disposable labour – and make sure what happened at P&O never happens again”. She accused ministers of failing to challenge P&O on what she called “unconscionable tactics – or even question whether these actions were legal” and called on the company to immediately reinstate all sacked staff, without any loss of pay. Over the weekend, angry protests were held at ports across the UK, the Guardian reports. Trade union leaders and politicians joined sacked P&O Ferries workers in Dover, Hull, Liverpool and Larne, and a protest is planned for outside parliament today. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) meanwhile has called for a boycott of P&O services, saying it had discovered that new crew on ferries on the Liverpool-Dublin route will be paid at rates well below the minimum wage. General secretary, Mick Lynch, said there was no effective way to stop the company from paying workers less than the minimum wage and also called for new employment legislation to protect seafarers. “We fear poverty pay will be accompanied by seafarers being chained to 12-hour day, seven-day week contracts that operate continuously for six months, with no pension,” he said.
 
Is a fuel-duty cut coming, as the cost to fill an average family car goes over £100? Some media commentators think Chancellor Rishi Sunak hinted at such a move yesterday in his Sunday morning media round. He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that he understood high prices at the pumps are “one of the biggest bills people face” and that “of course” he was prepared to step-in to help those on tightly-squeezed budgets. “Obviously I can’t comment on specific things (that will be in the spring statement),” he said, “but what I would say is… I have a rural constituency, people are incredibly reliant on their cars and this is one of the biggest bills that people face, watching it go up…I get that, that’s why we’ve frozen fuel duty already.” With the Government having frozen fuel duty for 11 consecutive years, Sunak added that he knows such action “really helps people”. However, Sunak also said he “can’t solve every problem” and that Britons faced a “difficult” time amid ballooning inflation. Former Tory minister Robert Halfon, a long-time advocate of duty cuts, said it was “absolutely vital” the Government slashes the tax, telling BBC Breakfast there is “real fear out there” among motorists and businesses due to rising pump prices.
 
The Guardian says Boris Johnson will chair a meeting with leaders from the nuclear industry on how to increase the UK’s nuclear power output today.  The PM is expected to publish the government’s energy security strategy later in March, against “a backdrop of rocketing energy bills, which were already creating a cost-of-living crisis even before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine led ministers to pledge to phase out Russian energy,” the newspaper says. Last November, the government agreed to invest in a new generation of mini-nuclear reactors, being developed by engineering firm Rolls-Royce. Meanwhile, banks are being encouraged by the government to fund North Sea oil and gas extraction. Helen Whately, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is meeting with lenders today, despite the Government’s Net Zerocommitment to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels by 2050. Several international banks have stopped funding fossil fuel investment in response to pressure from the Green lobby.
 
More than 50 bishops have urged the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to rule out support for new oil and gas developments as Britain looks to diverge from using Russian energy. The Evening Standard said that the former archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams is among the signatories to a letter written by senior Anglican and Catholic clerics to the incumbents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street ahead of Wednesday’s spring statement. They are calling for there to be “no support for new oil and gas developments” as part of the Chancellor’s fiscal announcement. Boris Johnson told the Conservative Party spring conference in Blackpool on Saturday that his administration planned to “make better use of our own naturally occurring hydrocarbons”.
 
Michael Gove has opened up a new front in his war with Britain’s biggest housebuilders the Telegraph says, after describing them as a “cartel” in comments to Conservative activists. The Housing Secretary, whose demands developers pay large sums to remove flammable cladding from thousands of flats have already rankled, told the Conservative Environment Network last week that he was “not a poster boy [for developers]… because of some of the steps we’ve taken in respect of building safety and some of the other changes we want to make as well.” “There are 101 changes we want to make,” he added, but that “we’ve essentially got a cartel of volume housebuilders who operate in a particular way, and there are all sorts of unhappy consequences.” “All of their incentives are essentially to swallow up virgin greenfields, rather than to think hard about regeneration,” he claimed. The industry reacted with fury to the comments, with one (unnamed) chief executive telling the newspaper that Gove’s words were “baffling”. “He seems to be suggesting some of Britain’s biggest companies are akin to a criminal organisation,” he said. Acting as a cartel - where companies collude to artificially maintain high prices for their customers - is illegal in Britain and punishable with a fine of up to 10% of worldwide turnover.
 
London Mayor Sadiq Khan will today renew his call for the government to make further long-term investment in Transport for London (TfL) as he visits to the Siemens Mobility facility in Yorkshire, where half of 94 new Piccadilly line Tube trains are due to be. The Goole factory employs up to 700 people in engineering and manufacturing, 250 in construction, and 1,700 in the broader supply chain, jobs which Khan says are at risk because of the government’s “continuous cycle of short-term funding deals handed to TfL, which only holds back London and the rest of the country from innovation, jobs and economic growth”. TfL has time-limited options built into its contract with Siemens Mobility to build new Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo and City line trains, contracts which Khan says with sufficient funding could be activated, providing ongoing work.
 
58% of single mothers do not automatically qualify to be enrolled in a workplace pension because they earn less than £10,000 a year - up from 45% in 2020 - a study by pension provider NOW: Pensions and the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI) has found. Researchers blamed covid restrictions for the uptick, saying some single mothers are likely to have reduced their working hours or stopped working altogether. They added that for many single mothers, chronic low income will persist well into retirement.
 
The average house asking price in Great Britain has topped £350,000 for the first time, according to Rightmove. Typical asking prices hit £354,564 in March, up 1.7% or £5,760 compared with February, the property website said. It was the biggest monthly rise for this time of year in 18 years, and pushed the annual rate of growth in asking prices to 10.4%. Annual growth was above 10% for all regions and countries except London and Scotland. Meanwhile, if you buy instead of rent an average three bed home, you could save as much as £1,400 a year, or £27,600 over the course of a 25-year mortgage, research by the Halifax suggests, a 13% difference in cost.
 
Staff at 11 Scottish universities will walk out in five consecutive days of strike action this week in a dispute over pensions and pay and conditions. It is the third round of strike action of the academic year by members of the University and College Union (UCU), following 10 days of walkouts between February 14 and March 2 and three-day action in December. The UCU says universities are ‘forcing through’ a pension cut that will mean employers receive 35% less guaranteed retirement income. It is also demanding a £2,500 pay rise for all employees as it estimates wages have fallen by more than a quarter (25.5%) in real terms since 2009.
 
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent talk of nuclear war has apparently stoked demand for iodine tablets. UK manufacturer Oxford Health Company (OHC) said it had a 15,000% surge in page views for its tablets in March, compared to January, and was experiencing “considerable increase in demand for iodine” from both individuals and other businesses wanting to sell the pills. Buyers are snapping up the pills in the belief that taking Potassium Iodide in advance of a nuclear explosion will ‘fill’ your thyroid with ‘stable’ iodine, as opposed to the radioactive iodine a nuclear bomb will release into the environment, essentially blocking the radioactive iodine from being absorbed and thereby protecting you against thyroid cancer. OHC says is donating profits from sales of the iodine pills to charities based in Ukraine and will not increase marketing for the supplements as consumer fears mount.
 
According to Reuters, investment firms Brookfield and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) have approached Vodafone with an offer to invest some $16bn in the telecoms firm’s mast company Vantage Towers in exchange for a majority stake. However, Reuters cited sources as saying that Vodafone, which listed Vantage Towers in Frankfurt last year and still owns 81% of the business, has been reluctant to engage in talks with financial investors as it would prefer an industry merger for Vantage with either Deutsche Telekom's towers unit DFMG or Orange's Totem.
 
Train builder Alstom and on-site supplier, Motherson, are ramping up production and creating 200 new jobs in Derby. Last December, Alstom and their joint-venture partner Hitachi were awarded a £2bn contract to design and build HS2’s new fleet of high speed trains in Britain.
 
Troubled Chinese property developer giant Evergrande and all its units this morning suspended trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange without giving a reason. Evergrande, one of the country's largest developers, has been involved in restructuring negotiations after racking up $300 billion in liabilities. This is the second time this year this has happened, and this time the suspension comes ahead of an expected $2 billion repayment obligation on Wednesday, and another next month of $1.4 billion.
 
A Paris taxi driver whose Tesla Model 3 crashed in December, killing one person, has filed a criminal complaint with public prosecutors in Versailles alleging that Tesla had "put the lives of others in danger". The off-duty taxi driver's Tesla ploughed through metal posts, a row of pay-to-ride bicycles and a recycling bin full of glass, hitting pedestrians and a van before finally coming to a halt, witnesses said of the accident. The taxi driver, who has not been named, told police after the accident that the car had accelerated on its own and that he was unable to activate the brakes.


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