The discussions in the Commons focused on the recent, sudden sacking of 800 employees by shipping freight company P&O Ferries as Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer return to the Commons after a week away from PMQs.
The decision by P&O has drawn criticism and condemnation from across the house, and has allegedly broken two laws regarding the process for mass redundancies.
- An employer intending to make 100 or more people redundant must notify the Business Secretary 45 days before letting staff go.
- An employer intending to make 20 or more staff redundant within any 90-day period, must first consult staff, and speak to trade union representatives.
Neither of these rules were adhered to by P&O, with the only prior notice appearing to have been given to Transport Secretary Gary Shapps the evening before the decision was publicly announced.
Since the redundancies were announced, Labour has criticised the government of failing to protect the workers who lost their jobs, as well as failing to work to oppose exploitative business practices such as fire-and-rehire. On Monday, a motion to condemn P&O for the decision, as well as to ban fire-and-rehire practices was passed through the commons, a vote on which Conservative MPs abstained. However, as the bill was put forwards as an opposition day motion the result is not legally binding – but is considered an expression of the will of parliament.
Criticising the government’s handling of the mass-firing, Labour leader Keir Starmer said:
“Since the Prime Minister came to office, P&O have received over £38 million of government contracts, and the parent company DP World is lined up for £50 million pounds of taxpayers’ money under the Freeport scheme. This government is apparently ‘reviewing’ these contracts, but reviews don’t save jobs.”
“DP world must be quaking in their boots. The Prime Minister says how disappointed he is in them – while handing them £50 million pounds.”
“The Prime Minister keeps telling us just how opposed he is to ‘fire-and-rehire’ … but he doesn’t have the backbone to ban it. While he sits on his hands more and more workers are having their lives turned upside down by this practice. What good to them is a Prime Minister who is all mouth and no trousers?”
“82,000 seafarers in this country; … they’re all worried about what this means for them. This morning one of them said to me “If P&O can get away with this, other companies will get rid of us too and replace us with cheap labour from abroad.” Why does the Prime Minister think they will take a crumb of comfort from his half-arsed bluster and waffle today?”
Boris Johnson’s responses included:
“The company concerned has a duty to notify the government 45 days before they take action of that kind. That is why we are taking the action that we are – to protect working people. What we’re also doing is lifting the living wage for all workers across our country by another £1000.”
“Above all, we’re ensuring the workers of this country have the best protection of all, which is a job.”
“P&O plainly aren’t going to get away with it, any more than any other company that treats its employees in such a scandalous way.”
Meanwhile a beaming Ian Blackford, striking an uncharacteristically friendly tone, thanked the government for its collaboration with the SNP in getting 50 children, orphaned by the war in Ukraine, to refuge in Scotland.
He went on to draw attention to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, which he described as an ’emergency’.
“Inflation is at its highest level in 30 years. … The very people who bore the brunt of the health pandemic are now being hammered by the poverty pandemic. This isn’t just a cost-of-living crisis, it is an emergency.”
“Family finances are at breaking point; they can’t tighten their budgets anymore. These families have no room to manoeuvre, but … the chancellor does. … Instead this Chancellor is making a political choice, the choice to push people further into hardship by hiking taxes, cutting universal credit, and giving companies free rein to cut workers pay via ‘fire-and-rehire’.”