Anger as public contract for DP World, the firm behind P&O sackings, is confirmed

DP World has been approved to co-run the Thames Freeport in Essex

27 Mar 2023| News

A decision to award the owner of P&O Ferries a major public contract has sparked outrage, after the firm sacked 800 workers without notice last year. Dubai-owned DP World has been approved to co-run the Thames Freeport in Essex, as part of the Government’s freeports plan. The government said the new freeport would “help to grow the economy”.

P&O Ferries sacked 800 hundred seafarers in March 2022 and replaced them with agency workers. A week afterwards, CEO Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to a Parliamentary select committee that the decision had broken employment law.

At the time, the government called the workers’ treatment “wholly unacceptable”. Under public  pressure, the government also cancelled a contract with P&O Ferries in May 2022. But today, the government confirmed plans for the Thames Freeport had recently been approved, and it would be run by a partnership between DP World, Ford and Forth Ports. The freeport will receive £25m in government funding.

Eight freeports have already been set up in England, with more planned. The Thames Freeport will be made up of three sites – the London Gateway in Thurrock, the Port of Tilbury near Southend-on-Sea, and Ford’s Dagenham car plant.

A spokesperson for Thames Freeport said that DP World and its co-partners have invested heavily in port and logistics infrastructure over the past decade:

“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.”

TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, said:

“This is an appalling decision. DP World oversaw the brutal, and illegal, sacking of 800 workers at P&O ferries. Ministers should have stripped the company of all its public contracts and severed commercial ties. But the government has chosen instead to reward DP World with another bumper deal. This is giving a green light to other rogue employers to act with impunity.”