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Protests over firing of hundreds of P&O workers as calls mount for boss to resign

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Protests are taking place in UK ports over the sacking of hundreds of seafarers, as calls for the resignation of a P&O Ferries boss mount.

The demonstrations come after a ship operated by the ferry company was detained for being “unseaworthy”.

The European Causeway vessel has been held in the port of Larne in Northern Ireland due to “failures in crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training”, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he will not compromise the safety of P&O ships and insisted the company will not be able to rush the training of inexperienced people.

In a move that sparked widespread outrage, the company laid off nearly 800 seafarers earlier this month and plans to replace them with lower-paid agency staff.

A spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “We can confirm that the European Causeway has been stopped at Larne.

“He has been detained due to failures in crew familiarization, ship documentation and crew training.

“The ship will remain detained until P&O Ferries resolves all these issues. Only then will she be re-inspected.”

The P&O European Causeway ferry docked at Larne Harbor last week (David Young/PA)

The MCA said there were no passengers or cargo on board the European Causeway vessel when it was detained.

The detention of ships is based on concerns about their safety and to prevent them from putting to sea.

A P&O Ferries spokesperson said: “European Causeway underwent an inspection by the MCA in Larne, during which it was deemed not ready enough to be operational.

“We will review the findings, make any necessary changes and continue to work closely with the MCA to get the ship back in service.”

On Saturday, protesters are gathering in Liverpool, Dover and Hull as the RMT union called for a stop to the ‘P&O Jobs Massacre’.

People chanted “P&O, what a shame” as they marched down a Liverpool street, with more than 100 in attendance, according to the union.

In Dover there were similar scenes when crowds carried banners and placards calling for an end to “P&O job sharing”.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) tweeted a video they said showed P&O stevedores in Rotterdam refusing to load goods onto a Hull-bound ferry “in solidarity with the 800 seafarers illegally fired by P&O ”.

Meanwhile, Irish union workers gathered in Dublin port opposite the P&O terminal to send support from across the Irish Sea to P&O staff.

The rally, organized by the Siptu union, was attended by the new leader of the Irish Labor Party, Ivana Bacik, with organizer Jim McVeigh telling the PA news agency the rally was aimed at “sending solidarity”.

He added: “The best thing we could do was have a rally in Dublin port outside P&O to make our concerns known.”

The UK Labor Party has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asking if the government will seek the removal of P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite as a director under the Directors Disbarment Act 1986.

In a letter, the party accused the government of “sitting on its hands” rather than taking action to hold P&O accountable, adding that the “toothless response risks greenlighting exploitation”.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said P&O Ferries’ “disgraceful misconduct has ruined livelihoods” and called for sacked workers to be reinstated and for Mr Hebblethwaite to be “banned” as director for its role in the crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed Shapps’ call for Hebblethwaite to resign.

In Larne, the local Mayor of the Mid and East Antrim Council, William McCaughey, said they would support reinstating staff immediately.

“It’s ridiculous what P&O has done to staff, we at Larne would be very keen to see staff reinstated, it’s the least P&O could do,” he told the PA news agency.

Alliance East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson welcomed the seizure of the ferry as a security measure.

“It’s not like the crew of one plane gets off one EasyJet and gets on the next, where the controls are exactly the same and everything is in the same place,” he told PA.

“No two ships are the same, and you can’t just fly with a crew and hope they can sail a ship.

“Each checkpoint will be in a different place, but particularly all those health and safety drills that need to be done, from the lifeboat stations to the operation of each piece of equipment.

“It seemed to me that it was going to be very difficult for the staff to be able to assume that role in such a short time.

“I am absolutely delighted that they have (seized the boat). This is not revenge against P&O, this is about the safety of the passengers and also the crew.

The RMT union said it welcomed the stoppage of the European Causeway and demanded the government “seize the entire fleet” of P&O vessels.


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