We cannot turn our back on those who have been displaced

2022-04-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick Whelan's column - April 2022

You would have hoped that we would be moving away from industrial and political negativity and hoping for a brighter, more secure, future after the rigours of the pandemic. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The government has seen fit to issue contradictory advice that while you can go back to work with covid you shouldn't while, at the same time, removing free testing and disbanding the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The trouble is that poor employers will try to hide behind this government-created confusion. But that does not take away their responsibility and duty of care, under the law, to have safe systems of work in place. No one should have to compromise their safety - or be coerced into a workplace - because they need the money. No one should have to put themselves - and others - at risk. And no safety critical worker should attend work with any illness, never mind covid, especially when numbers are, once more, creeping up.

The horrors of war on the continent of Europe, with the unjustified attack by Russia on Ukraine, and the war crimes Vladimir Putin is committing daily, brought home to all of us how fragile the peace we sometimes take for granted can be. I had the privilege of being on a delegation to Ukraine just before we were advised to evacuate due to the pending attack. We met with government ministers, mayors, civil society, trade union federations and colleagues from the left seeking to change their country.

Their overarching message was that they want to live in peace and are entitled to self-determination. The millions forced to flee the willful destruction of their country should not be demonized. They have no choice but to seek safety and do not want to be away from their homes forever. They want to go back and the treatment of them by this government is - as Alf Dubs observes on the centre pages of this month's Journal - a stain on our humanity and a badge of shame that will haunt our history forever. We cannot turn our backs on those displaced in Ukraine but we have a responsibility to treat all refugees with humanity and dignity so let's not forget those from Afghanistan and elsewhere who we should also treat with compassion.

Ukraine will need to be rebuilt and further escalations by Putin prevented. The long-term association of the Tory party with loads of Russian money has been, for some of us, a real concern about the effectiveness of our independence and the transparency of our democracy. The embarrassment of Prime Minister Johnson giving peerages to his Russian friends - his name is Boris, after all - who have made no contribution to this country comes on top of Partygate and speaks to the moral decay of those in power here. To compound this by jetting off, cap in hand, to Saudi Arabia on a failed begging mission the day after they carried out 81 executions speaks volumes.

This is a nation doing to Yemen what Putin is doing to Ukraine and that is truly frightening in its utter hypocrisy. That he does a U-turn on the earnings of MPs and their lucrative second jobs shows his complete lack of a moral compass or any ethical concern and only reinforces the idea that politics in this country is corrupt. And it stains those not involved, and who try to work for a greater good, by default.

We have sent our solidarity to the RMT and Nautilus over the despicable, brutal, and completely unjustifiable actions of P&O to sack 800 workers immediately, by video, hiring a private army of security thugs to replace loyal employees with agency workers on lesser conditions and salary. It's disgusting - and illegal. No consultation, or negotiation with the unions, no redundancy process, yet this is a company that trousered million in government support - from the taxes you and I pay - and then paid out £270 million in dividends to its shareholders. They cannot - and must not - be allowed to get away with this. The government should seize the assets of the company, and reinstate all the workers. If this government is not prepared to do that then it should, at least, ban P&O from operating here.

This is a government which claimed it is against fire and rehire - but, tellingly, has not legislated as it promised - so what is it going to do about a shabby firm that just fires? It's time for Johnson and Shapps to step up - for the loyal employees of P&O and for everyone in Britain. Because if it can happen in one company, with no comeback, then it can - and will - be used elsewhere. There have been many times for solidarity and never more so than now.

Please be safe...

In solidarity, 

Mick Whelan

General Secretary