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At a national demonstration outside Parliament today trade unionists marked the two year anniversary since nearly 800 seafarers were unlawfully sacked by P&O Ferries. 

Speaking at the event, RMT’s Eddie Dempsey slammed ministers for doing “absolutely nothing” since the national scandal, when they “simply lied through their teeth in order to get the press off their backs at the time”. 

He said it was “an absolute disgrace” that seafarers in this country are not subject to British employment laws, with a gap in legal protection meaning some of P&O’s crew are still paid less than £5 an hour, that’s less than half the UK minimum wage. 

This is despite the government pledging at the time to compel the company to pay its workers the minimum wage, however speakers at the demonstration expressed outrage at the political lack of action.

Trade unionists have demanded an end to the practice of fire and rehire and called for a mandatory seafarers’ charter to boost pay and conditions in the sector and invest in the industry. 

Working seven days a week for up to 17 hours at a time without a break, the conditions of being a seafarer for P&O Ferries was blasted by the French Maritime Minister as “dangerous” and “immoral”.

It was announced today that the French government was acting to close the legal pay and hours loophole that allows companies like P&O to exploit seafarers. The TUC called it a “national embarrassment” that the French government had acted before the UK, despite promises from British ministers over the last two years. 

At the time, P&O claimed the cuts were needed to save its business, but Dempsey told LFF this was “the height of nonsense”. 

Dempsey, whose father was a deep-sea sailor who sailed out of London when it still had a working port, said the sector had been “destroyed through deliberate actions taken by successive governments”.

“We had a very strong, well paid unionised workforce in the maritime sector and merchant navy that was the pride of the world,” the assistant general secretary said. 

“They were a vibrant and strong part of our working class history that was destroyed through deliberate actions taken by successive governments.”

“This type of stuff has been going on for such a long time, people weren’t really aware of how desperate conditions are until after P&O happened,” he said. 

“It seemed to be a moment in the national psyche that people were genuinely shocked that this could happen in Britain.

“Employers in this sector can simply sack workers when they want and sink people into poverty. But when it’s ordinary people, we have to jump through hoop after hoop of restrictive trade union legislation to get our rights.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

The post RMT’s Eddie Dempsey: Ministers ‘lied through their teeth’ after P&O Ferries scandal  appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.

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