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P&O Ferries defends brutal sacking of 800 staff

‘Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now,’ says company

Simon Calder
Thursday 17 March 2022 14:15 GMT
Tied up: P&O Ferries vessels at the cruise terminal at Dover
Tied up: P&O Ferries vessels at the cruise terminal at Dover (Simon Calder)

P&O Ferries has confirmed it is making 800 staff redundant with immediate effect.

The company said the decision was made due to the current business model being “unsustainable”.

The Dubai-owned ferry firm, which is replacing hundreds of seafarers with cheaper labour, has said: “Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

The statement was issued hours after a carefully laid plan began to make redundant on-board crew on links from Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Cairnryan to Larne and Liverpool to Dublin.

Early on Thursday morning, in a message to staff seen by The Independent, P&O Ferries said: “We will be making a major company announcement today which, with the support of our shareholder DP World, will secure the long-term viability of P&O Ferries.

“To facilitate this announcement all our vessels have been asked to discharge their passengers and cargo and standby for further instructions.”

The company told passengers via its Twitter feed that it is “unable to run for the next few hours”.

After hours of rumour, speculation and – at the ports – some chaos, P&O Ferries issued a statement about the move.

A spokesperson for the ferry firm said: “P&O Ferries plays a critical role in keeping trade flowing, supply chains moving, and connecting families and friends across the North and Irish seas and the English Channel. We have been at the heart of this service for years and we are committed to serving these vital routes.

“However, in its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m 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. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.

“These 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.”

The ferry company said because of the “lack of advance notice” they would receive enhanced compensation packages.

The spokesperson said: “In making this tough decision, we are securing the future viability of our business which employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK. And we are ensuring that we can continue serving our customers in a way that they have demanded from us for many years.”

Shortly before noon, crew were told via a Microsoft Teams meeting that they were no longer employed. Instead, they would be replaced by agency staff on inferior contracts.

Some were told they could apply for positions through these agencies.

Many of the seafarers are members of the RMT union, which has called on them to stage a sit-in on board the ferries.

The general secretary, Mick Lynch said: “We have instructed our members to remain on board and are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected and that the Secretary of State intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”

At Dover, three large P&O vessels that would normally be shuttling between the Kent port and Calais were tied up at the cruise terminal, about a mile away from the Eastern Docks used for Channel crossings.

Some motorists and truck drivers are being accommodated on DFDS sailings.

At Cairnryan and Larne, ports for the busiest link between Scotland and Northern Ireland, passengers were told to switch to Stena Line – but the rival ferry firm said no agreement was in place and they would have to buy new tickets.

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