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Unions slam government’s ‘appalling decision’ to award freeport contract to firm behind P&O Ferries sackings

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.

DP World was approached by City A.M. for comment. P&O Ferries declined to comment.  

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