P&O Ferries has sparked outrage after sacking 800 staff with plans to replace them with cheaper agency workers. Staff was told in a video call that Thursday was their ‘final day of employment’. Some employees refused to leave their ships in protest and were removed. P&O said it was a ‘tough’ decision but it would ‘not be a viable business’ without the changes.
However, the government called the workers' treatment wholly unacceptable and the RMT union is threatening legal action against the ferry company, calling it ‘one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations’. Protests are being organized in Dover, Liverpool and Hull today.
"Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships ... shows the insensitive way in which P&O have approached this issue," said Robert Courts, parliamentary Under-Secretary for Transport. "I am extremely concerned and frankly angry at the way workers have been treated by P&O."
Courts said the company had told him it will be suspending services for ‘a week to 10 days while they locate new crew’ on the Dover to Calais, Larne to Cairnryan, Dublin to Liverpool and Hull to Rotterdam routes. This morning, the company again said on Twitter it would not run services for the next few days. P&O passengers were told to use DFDS while services were suspended.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport says neither the Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, nor Robert Courts, was aware of what was happening with P&O until Thursday.
P&O said its survival was dependent on ‘making swift and significant changes now’. A statement reads: "We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries."
P&O Ferries is one of the UK's leading ferry companies, carrying more than 10 million passengers yearly (before the pandemic) and about 15% of all freight cargo in and out of the UK.
However, like many transport operators it saw demand slump in the pandemic. The firm claimed almost £15m in government grants in 2020, which included furlough payments for its employees. P&O is owned by DP World, the multi-national ports and logistics company based in Dubai. It paid a £270m dividend to shareholders in 2020.
Click here to read Robert Courts MP’s oral statement to parliament on the P&O Ferries staff redundancies and suspension of services.