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P&O Ferries sackings put workers’ rights in the spotlight

P&O Ferries sackings put workers’ rights in the spotlight
Sundari Anitha and Ruth Pearson on the Gate Gourmet sackings of 2005 and Jo Stanley on an earlier mass dismissal by P&O. Plus letters from Phil Coughlin and Dave Pollard 21 Mar 2022

The sacking of P&O Ferries workers (P&O Ferries told it could face unlimited fine if sackings unlawful, 18 March) echoes the treatment meted out to 700 workers at Gate Gourmet who were sacked by megaphone in 2005.

These workers, mainly female and of south Asian origin, prepared food for British Airways flights. They were dismissed while attending a meeting called by their union to protest against the imposition of agency workers on their production line.

A third of the workforce were subsequently rehired on contracts offering inferior pay and working conditions in a compromise agreement negotiated by their union, the TGWU. Among the remainder, many took voluntary redundancy, while others, including older women, were selected for compulsory redundancy.

Some 60 women who refused to accept what they saw as unfair dismissal took their cases to an employment tribunal, and lost. The Gate Gourmet workers’ struggle against hire-and-fire policies has been largely forgotten, but highlighted well-founded fears about cuts in workers’ protection.

We need safeguards against employers’ strategies to downgrade workers’ pay and conditions. We also need to resist pitting agency workers against those with secure contracts, British workers against migrant ones, and recognise this as an attack on all workers’ rights.

The government’s response to this unfair and potentially illegal flouting of accepted process for large-scale redundancies will be watched carefully, given the steep fall in real wages and living standards across the economy.
Prof Sundari Anitha
University of Lincoln
Emeritus Professor Ruth Pearson University of Leeds