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Job Losses

P&O Ferries staff refuse to leave ships after company makes 800 workers redundant

In a statement, the company said that in its current state, “P&O Ferries is not a viable business.”

LAST UPDATE | 17 Mar 2022

P&O FERRIES HAS sparked outrage after sacking 800 seafarers and replacing them with cheaper agency workers.

Many of those fired were refusing to leave ships, leading to security guards with handcuffs being deployed to remove them.

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, said it had made a £100 million loss year on year, which has been covered by its owner, but that in its current state, “P&O Ferries is not a viable business.”

“Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries,” it said.

It said the circumstances have resulted in a “very difficult but necessary decision”, which was only taken after “seriously considering all the available options”. 

“As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages,” it said.

Workers currently onboard ships were instructed by unions not to leave. Coaches carrying agency workers hired to replace them are parked near ships at ports.

British Labour MP Karl Turner posted a photograph on social media showing the captain of Pride of Hull addressing workers on the ship.

Turner wrote: “They have support right across the city of Hull and the rest of the country, and are determined to stay on board for as long as it takes.”

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said employers “cannot be given free rein to sack workers and replace them with agency staff”.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee, urged the Government to do “everything it can to ensure that this appalling employment transaction cannot be completed”.

He added: “Concern remains as to whether this is lawful.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said his officials “will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers”.

The British Government will make a Commons statement on P&O Ferries at 5pm today.

Some of those who lost their jobs were informed of the decision on a video call.

The company earlier insisted it is “not going into liquidation”.

It operates four routes, including two to and from Ireland: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

Sailings between Hull and Zeebrugge, Belgium, were axed in January 2021.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, P&O Ferries warned in May 2020 that around 1,100 workers could lose their jobs as part of a plan to make the business “viable and sustainable”.

A spokesman for the firm said: “P&O Ferries is not going into liquidation. We have asked all ships to come alongside, in preparation for a company announcement.

“Until then, services from P&O will not be running and we are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”

Stormont Assembly members whose constituency incorporates the port of Larne expressed concern about the potential implications for the route to Cairnryan.

East Antrim MLA John Stewart, who has relatives who work at the port, said staff were uncertain about what would be announced.

“The information is being nothing more than drip-fed to them,” the Ulster Unionist MLA told BBC Radio Ulster. He said it is a “worrying” development.

“For the staff, for Larne port itself, particularly for the local effect here, and also for businesses and passengers that regularly use that service, it’s an invaluable local service over to Cairnryan and I think this news will be deeply worrying for all of them, especially in the absence of any concrete information as to what the long-term strategy is going to be.”

In the UK, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons he is “concerned” by the situation.

He said: “I understand they have temporarily paused their operations and that’s causing disruption at the short straits – Calais-Dover – as well as some other ports.

“I’m working with the Kent Resilience Forum and I’ve just instructed them to become intricately involved, and other partners in this, and we’ll be taking steps later today – including ensuring that my officials will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers.”

With reporting from Jane Moore.

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