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P&O Ferries Fires 800 Seafarers in UK Without Notice

P&O Ferry fires seafarers
P&O Ferries operating from the UK said it needed swift action to sustain its business (P&O Ferry off Dover)

Published Mar 17, 2022 3:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

P&O Ferries set off a firestorm of criticism as the company suspended operations and summarily dismissed 800 employees or a quarter of its workforce with no notice at mid-day today. Union and government leaders responded calling the move by the ferry company owned by Dubai DP World shocking, scandalous, and one of the worst betrayals ever by a company in the U.K. With demands for government action, the unions told members not to leave the ships while also seeking to commence legal action.

The situation began to unfold early this morning when P&O Ferries issued a brief statement telling ships to suspend service and asking for passengers and cargo to be offloaded. The company’s alerts to passengers said that “Regretfully, P&O Ferries services are unable to run for the next few hours,” suggesting that they would find them alternate transportation with other companies. Rumors began to spread of a possible bankruptcy filing while the company insisted that was inaccurate but that it would not be operating for the next few days while “making a major company announcement .... will secure the long-term viability of P&O Ferries.”

Media reports said at mid-day employees were shown a short, pre-recovered video message informing them that 800 people were being immediately dismissed but would receive compensation for the lack of notice. They were asked to leave the vessels immediately with reports of security guards being sent to the ships. At the urging of their union, crewmembers were reportedly refusing to leave the vessels and in at least one report were said to have raised the gangway when they saw the security forces heading toward the ship.

The company issued a statement calling the action difficult but said swift and significant changes were necessary to maintain the business. P&O Ferries, which is not related to P&O Cruises, operates a fleet of more than 20 vessels sailing from the UK across the English Channel, North and Irish Sea, to ports including in Ireland, France, and the Netherlands. The company said it had a total of approximately 3,000 employees and that they were moving to protect the jobs of 2,200 employees. The 800 dismissed from the ships were told that they would be replaced by agency employees.

 

 

“P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” the company said in a public statement. “We have made a £100 million (US$131 million) loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now.”

Union representatives responded to the announcement noting that there had been no consultation or notice or attempt to work with the unions to develop a plan. “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking the crew across its entire UK fleet is a betrayal of British workers. It is nothing short of scandalous, given that this Dubai-owned company received British taxpayers' money during the pandemic,” said Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson. 

Like all passenger and ferry operators, P&O Ferries suffered badly during the travel restrictions created by the pandemic. The company received significant government aid from emergency funds and the government and union supported the furloughing of some 2,500 employees. 

Nautilus is also reporting that employees were being pressured into signing the severance agreements. They also said that the company was suggesting that the fired crew could apply to the agency that would be supplying the replacement workers, which the union said was a tactic to rehire the fired employees at lower wages and with fewer benefits. Nautilus International is also asking the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to intervene to ensure safety at sea if the company goes ahead with the plan to restaff the ships with replacement workers.

There are calls for the government to intervene with several statements from ministers calling the treatment of the employees who were informed by the video that it was their final day of employment "wholly unacceptable." Robert Courts, under secretary for transport, responded saying the company’s action “shows the insensitive way in which P&O have approached this issue," telling the House of Commons that he expressed his anger during a telephone call with company executives.

While reports are saying that the crews have mostly left the ships, the BBC is reporting that the unions are organizing wide-spread protests for Friday. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers announced plans for mid-day Friday demonstrations in the major ports of Dover, Liverpool, and Hull.

"It is vital workers from every industry mobilize for the demonstrations on Friday,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch. He called P&O Ferries’ actions gangster capitalism.