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UN workers’ rights watchdog rebukes UK government over failures on P&O Ferries scandal

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The UN workers’ rights watchdog, the International Labour Organization (ILO), has rebuked the UK government over failures following the P&O Ferries scandal, in which 800 seafarers were sacked illegally – and demanded that the UK beef up worker protections.

The ILO has called on the UK to increase sanctions on companies that ignore the law and ensure that workers can get their jobs back (the ILO ruling can be found here).

This ruling from the ILO’s committee on freedom of association follows a complaint by the TUC, Nautilus, RMT – and international union bodies the ETF and ITF, and ITUC.

"P&O Ferries ran roughshod over workers’ basic employment rights and their rights to freedom of association exposing major gaps in UK labour law and enforcement," said Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF. 

"The CFA has vindicated these workers and categorically called on the government to strengthen its labour laws in line with international standards – this must include substantive criminal and financial penalties to deter another jobs massacre. It is imperative that the UK Government urgently sits down with the unions to effectively implement the CFA's recommendations."

This is the second time in months that the ILO has reprimanded the UK government.

In the summer, the UN workers’ rights watchdog slammed the UK’s anti-union drive and called on ministers to bring UK union laws into line with international law.

TUC, ITF, ITUC, Nautilus and RMT joint union statement

P&O Ferries’ brutal sacking of 800 dedicated seafarers in March 2022 was one of the most shocking episodes in modern industrial relations.

Despite admitting acting illegally, P&O Ferries have faced no sanctions and have been let off the hook for their appalling treatment of staff.

Conservative ministers haven’t lifted a finger. They should have come down like a tonne of bricks on P&O Ferries and their parent company, DP World.

Instead, they have they have spent at least £600,000 on P&O Ferries’ services, offered lucrative freeport contracts to DP World, and turned a blind eye to P&O Ferries’ disgraceful behaviour.

There is nothing to stop another P&O Ferries scandal from happening again under current UK law.

Having feigned outrage at P&O Ferries’ actions, ministers have rowed back on their promise to clamp down on bad bosses and introduce a much-needed employment bill.

As the ILO makes clear, this can’t go on. Without a proper sanctions regime, rogue employers like P&O Ferries will continue to get away with treating staff like disposable labour.

We need to drag our outdated employment laws into the 21st century.

This is why we need a new deal for working people – like Labour is proposing – to ensure that everybody is treated with dignity and respect at work.

For too long parts of our labour market have been like the wild west – with some seafarers particularly exposed to hyper-exploitation and a lack of enforceable rights.

Secure and fair work is vital for a healthy, and prosperous workforce and for a thriving economy.


Media contacts: ITF:

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry across the world. 

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