Unions slam government’s ‘appalling decision’ to award freeport contract to firm behind P&O Ferries sackings
Trade unions have hit out at the UK government over its decision to let the company that owns P&O Ferries run the new Thames Freeport development – after the Dubai-owned shipping company “chose” to break the law by firing nearly 800 staff last year.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak slammed the government’s “appalling decision” to award DP World a contract to co-run the Thames Freeport in Essex as he hit out at the firm for overseeing the “brutal – and illegal – sacking of 800 workers at P&O Ferries”.
Nowak instead said “ministers should have stripped the company of all its public contracts and severed commercial ties” as he argued the UK’s decision to “reward DP World with another bumper deal” gives a “green light to other rogue employers to act with impunity.”
P&O Ferries admitted breaking the law in March 2022 after firing 786 staff via a pre-recorded video and replacing them with lower paid agency workers.
Maritime trade union and body Nautilus’ general secretary Mark Dickinson said the union is “disappointed by the UK government’s decision to award a major public contract to DP World,” as he argued the government has “failed to hold DP World and P&O Ferries accountable.”
The comments come after UK government signed off plans to invest up to £25m into developing the Thames Freeport in Essex last week, in line with proposals outlined in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 2021 budget to create eight new freeports throughout England.
The Thames Freeport is a low-tax economic zone in Essex made up of Ford’s Dagenham manufacturing facility and the Tilbury and London Gateway ports. The Essex freeport became the UK’s second freeport following the launch of the Teeside Freeport the month before.
A UK government spokesperson said the Thames Freeport “will help to grow the economy and level up by unlocking high-quality jobs and much-needed investment into the area. This approval means that the freeport will now receive up to £25m from government and potentially hundreds of millions in locally-retained business rates.”
The government claims the Thames Freeport project – which launched after receiving £300m worth of investment from DP World in 2021 – will help create 21,000 jobs while also advancing the UK’s energy transition.
A spokesperson for Thames Freeport said: “The financial incentives available to occupiers of the Thames Freeport site are expected to generate more than £4.6bn of new investment over the next 25 years, with the public sector component invested exclusively in local public infrastructure.”
“It is important to understand that the financial incentives and tax reliefs on business rates and stamp duty being provided by Central and Local Government are designed solely to attract occupiers and tenants to the freeport site. The three private sector partners that own the land will not directly benefit from these reliefs.”
“Our partners have invested over £2.5 billion in port and logistics infrastructure over the past 10 years, with over £3 billion of further investment planned including a £350m new fourth berth at London Gateway which is currently under construction.”
“This investment has benefitted the levelling up of the region, with more than 21,000 new direct and indirect jobs expected on the freeport estate alone. Thames Freeport will also unlock many better paid jobs to guarantee regional prosperity and social mobility for generations to come.”
P&O Ferries declined to comment.