UK Cancels Contract with P&O Ferries in Response to Firing of Crews

UK government cancels contract with P&O Ferries
UK government canceled a contract is response to the firing of seafarers in March (file photo)

Published May 31, 2022 3:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two months after the mass firing of 800 seafarers by P&O Ferries set off protests across the UK, the government announced that it has terminated a contract it had with the ferry company. Government officials had promised that they would review all their business with the company in response to the firings, while there are also investigations ongoing into possible violations of employment or other laws.

The UK Home Office issued a brief statement on May 30 saying, “The Home Office has terminated its agreement with P&O to provide contingency travel services,” according to Home Secretary Priti Patel. She noted in a tweet that, “we stand against firms who exploit loopholes and undermine workers’ rights."

The move however appears to be largely symbolic after the company and its parent company DP World has continued to largely show no remorse for its decision and has continued forward with the strategy to hire agency workers at lower wages. According to the BBC, the move by the Boarder Force was for a “P&O Ferries' contract to transport border staff to northern France if there was a problem at the Channel Tunnel.” It would have only pertained to the service from Dover.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps however welcomed the news. Speaking on behalf of the government after the firing, he promised that they would review all contracts with P&O Ferries while also proposing laws to require that crew aboard ships calling in UK ports were paid at levels equal to the UK. He tweeted a message shortly after the Home Office announcement saying, "We're reforming maritime law to stop firms exploiting legal loopholes and protect workers' rights."

P&O Ferries, however, continues to move forward with its strategy saying that it had to reduce costs to remain in business. During a recent BBC interview, chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite said he was sorry that the company’s actions “had a material impact on a number of our ex-employees,” while insisting that it was the only route possible to save the company.

At the same time, DP World CEO Ahmed bin Sulayem speaking to the Financial Times praised the actions of the company. He said that the parent had let the company make its own business decisions but that the chief executive had “done an amazing job,” saving P&O Ferries.

P&O Ferries admitted that it underestimated the response. The unions continue to call for boycotts and more government actions. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency subjected each of the company’s vessels to extensive inspections which resulted in several detentions due to safety issues as well as a lack of training and familiarity with equipment for the replacement crews. 

On May 30, P&O finally returned its ninth ferry to service a month after limited service was restored across the Channel to France. The MCA last week cleared the Pride of Canterbury ferry to resume service and P&O added her to the departure scheduled from Dover and Calais yesterday. The company has one additional ferry which is yet to return to service. Last week, the MCA reported that P&O has not yet requested an inspection for the ferry Spirit of France.