The Government must follow up the P&O issues

Last Thursday in the House of Commons a series of questions from a range of MPs took place on the theme of P&O. The title was P&O Ferries: Staff Rosters which can be found here. It seemed very clear that the Government is not responding anywhere as much as they need to. The people who asked the questions were Labour, SNP and Conservative MPs. The Conservative was Huw Merriman who is the Bexhill and Battle MP and is also the Chair of the Transport Committee. His contribution came along with the SNP MP Gavin Newlands who is also part of the same Committee and also the Labour MPs John Martin McDonnell and Louise Haigh who is the Shadow Secretary for Transport. The Government responses all came from Robert Courts who is one of the Government Ministers in Transport but his boss Grant Shapps needs to take these calls very seriously. Tragically the answers from Robert Courts were very vague and indeed at one stage he stated to Louise Haigh

It is obvious nonsense that the Government are not acting. There are nine actions that we are taking to tackle the utterly disgraceful behaviour of P&O. The hon. Lady should be absolutely clear that P&O is responsible for this situation, not the Government; we are taking action. It is also worth remembering the model that Irish Ferries introduced in 2004, because the Labour Government did nothing, and she has done nothing. This Government are the ones who are taking action now.

So the questions included the following elements:

McDonnell: On the intensive Dover to Calais route, P&O wants agency crew to work over 230 round trips before a period of rest. The experienced local crew it replaced worked 18 round trips before a rest period. This is where P&O is cutting its wage bill; it is not just doing it through minimum wage avoidance.

Merriman: What P&O did—and it was willing to admit this—was break the law. It refused to allow the usual consultation rights, and Parliament needs to do something to fix that. Surely the Government need to be in a position to take the likes of P&O on and get an injunction, so that consultation rights are left intact.

Haigh: As the Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, said, P&O brazenly broke the law, and it has faced no consequences for that action. Last week, the chief executive officer, whom the Transport Secretary said is not fit to be in charge of P&O, was promoted to the board. P&O is laughing in the faces of this Parliament and the public, and the Government are frankly letting the company get away with it. When will they get tough and seek a court order banning the entire board from office?

Newlands: I completely agree with the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh. The Government have unveiled plans to allow ports to surcharge or block ferry companies such as P&O if they do not comply with national minimum wage legislation. I welcome anything that makes life harder for the likes of P&O, but why are the Government ducking their responsibility to amend and enforce employment law, and instead palming it off to the private sector? Is it not time that maritime employment law was devolved to Holyrood, and that a Government committed to taking action against the likes of P&O? Is it not time that that Government were given the power to get on with the job?

And along with the response to Louise Haigh, the Courts responses included:

Yes. My hon. Friend raises a very good point. There is a package of nine measures that we are taking to tackle the disgraceful behaviour of P&O, which the House is united in condemning. Conversations will go on between ourselves and other Departments, particularly the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which holds responsibility for the area of legislation my hon. Friend mentioned.

As I have explained, the Government are committed to taking action. We have nine points that we are addressing, and ports are being asked to act because they are the area where we have control and where we can enforce national minimum wage legislation. That is a critical plank of the action we are taking—it is not everything, but it is one of the most important things. We will continue to talk to colleagues across Government about any other steps we might take on employment legislation more generally.

We clearly need Courts and indeed Shapps to do far more than they are currently doing. Particularly given the opening aspect from McDonnell.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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