The Speaker
Tuesday, 18 June 2024 – 15:20

Ferry company sacks hundreds of workers

800 P&O staff were suddenly made redundant on Thursday, in a move that unions have described as one of the “most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations”, leading to protests across the country.

Ship staff were made aware of the redundancies in a video message, informing them of their loss of employment with immediate effect and no prior warning.

P&O announced that they had been making a loss of around £100 million annually, and that the redundancies were necessary in order to hire cheaper workers through an agency, with a spokesperson for the company saying it would “not be a viable business without the changes.”

The announcement led to protests by the freshly fired staff across the company’s various docks, as P&O ferried in newly hired agency staff – along with security armed with handcuffs. In one of the more notable stand-offs, a Captain in Hull ordered his ship’s gangplank to be raised, preventing access to the ship for 5 hours until the company agreed to provide paperwork requested by workers’ unions.

Some of the replacement agency staff have reported that they had not been told anything beforehand about what ships they would be serving on – not knowing that they were going to replace P&O workers until they arrived at the site.

P&O has stated it will be unable to operate its services normally for the next few days. P&O Ferries is responsible for around 15% being moved to and from the UK.

Both the Nautilus Union, and The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) have been seeking legal advice on the dismissal.

Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus, said:

“It’s absolutely ripped the guts out of everybody.”

“I’ve seen some curveballs and some shocking developments [in my] time… but for a company to treat the legal process in such an underhand and callous way has shocked me.”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been very critical of the move.

Maritime Minister Robert Courts stated:

“Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships with immediate effect while being told cheaper alternatives would take up their roles, shows the insensitive nature by which P&O approached this issue”

“I am extremely concerned and frankly angry at the way workers have been treated”

Labour Leader Keir Starmer said:

“It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting.”

Armed forces minister James Heappey said:

“They are seeing what they can do to make the situation better, but the reality is P&O has made a commercial decision, and as much as we disagree with it, I fear that for those workers, they’ve been badly let down by their employer.”

“Sadly it is the case that the government cannot force an employer to continue to employ people that the employer has said it doesn’t want to employ.”

Some disgruntled workers have suggested the government attempt to force P&O to repay the £15 million the company claimed in 2020 for pandemic furlough payments.

A spokesperson for the RMT called the company’s action a “vicious example of despotic employer behaviour” and a “kick in the teeth to the hard-working members of staff who have kept the business running through the global health crisis”.

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