and Orient, known now as P&O, operates ferries from Britain to various
countries in Europe. Recently, eight hundred of their experienced and loyal
staff were dismissed without notice, so that the company could employ staff from
other countries, and pay them at a lower rate. Many other companies have taken
similar action – transferring the jobs to other countries, but paying people
less. This is a complete travesty of all that seems fair and right.
Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and speaking as the mouthpiece of
God, wrote: “The
best beloved of all things in My sight is justice; turn not away therefrom
if thou desirest Me… Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be.
Verily justice is My gift to thee.” As Bahá’u’lláh tells us that justice is the
best-beloved of all things in the sight of God, we need to consider some of the
implications of the word. Surely, justice requires fair and compassionate
treatment of those whose lives are affected by your actions – chiefly, in this
instance, your employees.
Apart from the loss of income, the role of work in a person’s life should also be taken into consideration. Work is seen by Bahá’ís as a way of dedicating your life to the service of others, and is therefore a form of worship. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Bahá’u’lláh’s son) said: “All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.” The ferry company removed that avenue of service from its employees at a stroke. It was not just their livelihood that was taken from them, it was their whole sense of worth, their role in society. In the Bahá’í view, employees of a company are entitled to a share in the profits of that company. This reinforces the idea that this is an enterprise in which owners, managers and workers share. Success for one is success for all. Unfortunately, this is not always seen to be the case.
Shipping has often been the setting for questionable practices. Every ship is registered in one country or another. But some countries are thought to have lax inspection procedures (or none at all). It suits unscrupulous shipping companies to register their old, rusting vessels in one of these countries, as a “flag of convenience”. They get few (or no) inspections. It is an income for the government of such a country, and a way for the companies to get away with poor (or no) maintenance or safety practices. The situation is then compounded by the complicated way in which the companies themselves are set up, whereby the company named on the shipping register then belongs to another company, in another country, which in turn belongs to another company… Prosecuting those responsible for a shipping disaster can be very difficult.
So we have a situation in which crew members speaking eight different languages are working on a ship docked in Country A, with a flag from Country B, owned by a company registered in Country C, which belongs to another company in Country D… And we are dealing here with people’s lives, and shipments of food and goods between countries. My point is that in the case of shipping, which usually involves visiting ports in different countries and travelling over vast distances of sea which “belong” to nobody, there should be a world body in control, ensuring safety, respect for the marine environment, and fair treatment for everyone. The laws on commerce, financial transactions, safety and employment should be the same everywhere. The shipping industry clearly shows the need for some form of world administration, with the power to enforce basic procedures.
P&O’s change of crew members has had far-reaching consequences. It has meant that their ships need fresh safety clearance, which has led to some of them being out of service. This, together with other problems, has led to long delays at the port of Dover, not just disrupting people’s Easter holidays, but causing huge backlogs for lorries and their goods. This is not a good outcome for anybody, including P&O.
Respect for the law should be underlying the actions of all the stakeholders. P&O’s Chief Executive Officer admitted to a Parliamentary Committee that he broke the law, treating the workers unfairly by sacking them without any sort of prior consultation with the unions. He knew that they would not agree to his proposals, but he seemed to think that it did not matter. According to the Bahá’í teachings, which urge obedience to the laws of a just government, it does matter. There need to be consequences. Otherwise, it just isn’t fair.