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The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) are calling on DP World to engage in meaningful dialogue with unions after the U.A.E. company abruptly sacked 800 UK-based ferry workers last week.
P&O Ferries, a DP World subsidiary that operates ferry services between the UK and Ireland and Europe, alerted ferry workers via a pre-recorded Zoom call last Thursday that they would be laid off with immediate effect. The company has suspended services as it transitions to non-union, third-party labor. A spokesperson for the P&O Ferries said the decision was necessary for the survival of the company.
The unions representing the laid off workers, RMT and Nautilus International, said they were not notified or consulted with on the plan. British politicians have also slammed the abrupt nature of the firing.
In a joint statement issued Monday, the ITF and ETF said the move by DP World shows a shocking disregard for workers’ rights and goes against DP World’s own bill of goods regarding social and corporate responsibility standards.
“These kinds of brutal shock tactics are reminiscent of the infamous Patrick dispute, that represents nothing more than an outmoded and discredited management style,” said Paddy Crumlin, President of the ITF and Chair of ITF’s Dockers’ Section.
“DP World’s callous decision to sack and attack 800 hard-working seafarers represents a brutal attack on their dignity,” Crumlin added. “In doing so, they’re breaching laws and failing to meet their own company’s standards.”
ETF President Frank Moreels echoed this sentiment, pointing out that the use of non-union replacement labor amounts to a fundamental breach of workers’ rights to freedom of association.
“Their plan to outsource the jobs is in tatters. Reports are coming in across Europe that their original strategy was to replace the sacked workers with Russian and Ukrainian seafarers,” said Moreels. “What we’re seeing now is a chaotic scrabble to recruit seafarers on anything from two-week contracts through a shady shell corporation with links to the Paradise papers.”
In 2019, DP World signed up to the UN’s Global Compact (UNGC), a voluntary inititiative by company to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.
“They can’t have it both ways,” said Crumlin who is also Co-Chair of the Committee on Workers’ Capital. “One minute they’re voicing their support for human rights and ESG principles and the next they’re throwing 800 people out of work with 30 minutes notice.”
The ITF is expected raise the issue of the P&O Ferries’ treatment of seafarers at the UNGC Board meeting in Dubai. ITF’s General Secretary Stephen Cotton has also reached out to DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem to discuss the matter, and plans to deliver him a Global Protest Letter backed by hundreds of unions and thousands of workers.
“We hope that Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem will take this opportunity to engage and move to rectify this situation that avoids further reputational damage to his company and respects these workers’ fundamental labour rights”, said Crumlin.
“In the interest of the 800 workers who have lost their jobs, we are ready and willing to facilitate dialogue between the company and the unions, but we also stand ready to provide meaningful solidarity across DP World’s global operations if need be, to defend these workers’ jobs,” Crumlin added.
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