Standing up for workers’ rights is a collective endeavour. Today the attack is on 800 P&O staff, but tomorrow it could be your job. It is an act of self-interest and solidarity that we stand against rogue employers, unscrupulous business practices, and a government that have eroded our rights in the workplace, forcing down pay, terms and conditions. It’s time to act and for Ministers to decide, whose side are you on? I know my answer #P&OSeafarers #RMT #WorkersRights

Grahame Morris (Easington)

Let me declare an interest: by visibly wearing my RMT tie and badge, I can say that I am indeed a member of the RMT parliamentary group. I wish to acknowledge the fact that RMT and Nautilus members were lobbying Parliament today, and I was honoured to meet them, to listen to their concerns and to try to relay those concerns in the Chamber today.

Thursday 17 March 2022 was St Patrick’s Day and also a day that will live in infamy for people involved in the maritime sector. Those appalling scenes that we have seen repeated—those video sackings—are really diabolical. I will not go into too much detail because of the shortage of time. The Minister said that he did not see the note, but it seems to be all over the BBC website that people are making fun of that. Whether or not that is the case, the horse has bolted. What we are looking for from the Treasury Bench is some action. The British taxpayer stood behind P&O during the pandemic. Indeed, having the honour of serving on the Transport Committee, I can say that we saw evidence and received reports that up to £15 million was paid to P&O Ferries both through furlough and through the freight subsidy scheme. That was in the same year that huge profits were recorded by this particular group—some Members have quoted £270 million in dividends.

The Opposition motion is quite reasonable. We are calling on the seafarers who have been affected—the 800 men and women seafarers and officers—to be reinstated and for workers’ rights to be strengthened. If Ministers do not act with some haste and alacrity, the great danger is that other unscrupulous employers are likely to be emboldened—I do not just mean in the shipping and maritime sector. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised those concerns with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Courts and Finance Ministers about what more can be done to support the industry.

This case is not unique. Eight hundred staff have been made redundant, so the Government have a decision to make about whose side they are on, and whether they will speak out in public. If the Minister fails to stand up for British workers today a dark cloud will linger over every employee in the maritime sector and in other sectors across the country. After the comments of the Transport Secretary today, those workers will possibly be thinking that they have no rights, or few rights, to security at work.

The Government have a choice: are they on the side of rogue employers, bandit capitalists, or do they stand up for British workers? People are becoming tired of platitudes from Ministers. I want to conclude with some words from the former RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, who said:

“If you fight you won’t always win. But if you don’t fight you will always lose”.

So, today, is a day to fight. Will the Minister fight for what is right and stand up for those 800 seafarers who were employed by P&O?

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