Calls are being made for a boycott of P&O amid growing anger over the sudden sacking of 800 workers.
Demonstrations are being held at ports on Friday and outside the Conservative Party’s spring conference in Blackpool on Saturday, with unions saying they are receiving massive support for the move to be reversed.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said there should be a widespread public and commercial boycott of the ferry giant until the jobs are reinstated.
It has emerged that the firm’s parent company – Dubai-owned DP World – shelled out a staggering £270 million dividend to its shareholders in May 2020, while P&O, its subsidiary, was receiving taxpayer cash through the furlough scheme.
According to the RMT, in April 2020 P&O received more than £10 million to cover 80 per cent of the wages of 1,400 workers – including seafarers and dockers.
With the furlough scheme continuing into 2021, it is likely that the company received many more millions from the taxpayer purse.
The company has blamed the move on losses of £100 million following the slump in travel because of the pandemic.
Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, told the i newspaper: “It is quite simply a scandal that this Dubai-owned company, which received millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, have upended the lives of 800 British workers, all while the profits of their owners, DP World, soared by 52 per cent in the first half of 2021.”
The government hit out at the firm’s “wholly unacceptable” treatment of workers. “Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships… shows the insensitive way in which P&O have approached this issue,” Robert Courts, parliamentary under secretary for transport, said.
“I am extremely concerned and frankly angry at the way workers have been treated by P&O.”
The scandal comes just days after Boris Johnson visited the United Arab Emirates, as part of a trip to the Middle East.
The prime minister met with the de facto leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in a push to ease skyrocketing energy prices, as he seeks to ease the UK’s dependence on Russian energy supplies following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
‘Stick to our principles’
Johnson has insisted that forging closer ties with Saudi Arabia does not mean “we can’t stick to our principles”, after he was accused of going from “dictator to dictator” to find new fuel sources.
He smiled and warmly shook hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when arriving at the royal court in Riyadh, days after the largest mass execution in the kingdom in modern history.
At his first stop in Abu Dhabi, Johnson insisted he has raised the two countries’ poor human rights records “many, many times”, adding: “I’ll raise them all again today.”
He pointed towards Saudi Arabia announcing a £1 billion investment in green aviation fuel in Teesside.
“That’s the kind of thing we want to encourage – doesn’t in any way mean we can’t stick to our principles and raise those issues that we all care about,” he told broadcasters.