Freight News, Sea

P&O Ferries suspends services and sacks 800 workers

[ March 17, 2022   //   ]

P&O Ferries says its services will not operate for the “next few days” after it issued redundancy notices to 800 seafaring staff in a bid to secure the future of the lossmaking business.

The RMT union is reported as saying that they are being replaced with foreign seafarers. Staff were reportedly told of their sacking through a pre-recorded Zoom message.

Some workers are reported to be refusing to leave the vessels.

Services affected include Dover-Calais, Hull-Rotterdam and Stranraer-Larne.

P&O said that the business was not viable with annual losses of  £100m having to be covered by parent company DP World. “ Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries,” it said.

A statement on the company’s website read: “P&O Ferries have today announced a programme of work to become a more competitive and efficient operator, providing a better service to our customers across the tourism and freight industries.
While we enact these changes, there will be significant disruption across P&O Ferries services over the next few days, however we are working to minimise the impact on your journey. It said that Dover-Calais customers would be redirected to DFDS services.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) said that their UK affiliate unions RMT and Nautilus have instructed their members to remain onboard vessels and are demanding immediate intervention from the UK Government to stop the outsourcing.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said he was “deeply concerned at reports that busloads of non-union crew and ‘handcuff trained’ security are sitting in Dover and Hull, waiting to remove and replace the British-based seafarers.”

“We are shocked and angry that P&O, a company that pocketed thousands of pounds of UK taxpayer’s money during the pandemic, intends to forcefully remove crews,” added Cotton

The TSSA union said that it condemned P&O Ferries practices after the company announced that all sailing staff would be sacked immediately and replaced with agency staff. It added that P&O Ferries have encouraged their staff to apply to the agency for work – effectively reapplying for their own jobs.

General secretary Manuel Cortes, said, “This is absolutely despicable behaviour from P&O, designed to reduce pay, and worsen terms and conditions for their staff. They should be ashamed of themselves, treating loyal and hardworking staff like this. 

In any civilised country these actions would not only be unlawful but punishable in the harshest possible terms. Sadly, I doubt the Tory government will lift even their little finger to ensure this happens.

“I’m sending our union’s solidarity to the members of our sister unions being treated in such a despicable way by this dishonorable employer . I am also putting the rest of the ferry sector on notice: TSSA will fight any attempt to replicate P&O’s disgraceful behaviour tooth and nail.”

The port of Dover stated: “The Port of Dover recognises how difficult today’s announcement by P&O Ferries must have been, but also acknowledges the magnitude of the financial challenge the company appears to have had across its multiple routes as a business. The Port will work with P&O Ferries as the operator looks to deliver a financially viable service from Dover going forward, but our thoughts are of course also with all those directly affected by today’s announcement.

Chief executive Doug Bannister, added: “This has clearly been a tough decision for one of our long-standing ferry operators. The continued commitment to Dover is undoubtedly welcome and reinforces the desirability of the route, but the port is a close community and so we are acutely aware of the impact this will have on those directly affected as well as those who live and work with them. They are in our thoughts at this unsettling time.”

In the meantime, Dover said it would work with all of its customers and do all it can to minimise any disruption to the local community as well as its wider operations, working with its Kent partners as the transition to P&O Ferries’ new arrangements takes place.