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P&O mass sackings ‘will lead to cross-Channel disruption’

[ March 18, 2022   //   ]

International delivery specialist ParcelHero says that P&O Ferries’ “crass” mass-firing of 800 staff is leading to supply chain and cross-Channel freight disruption.

The parcel broker warns that the ongoing suspension of services could have serious implications for Great Britain – Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland (ROI) shipments, during a period of already intense disruption.

Head of consumer research, David Jinks, says: “P&O is not just a passenger ferry operator, its freight services are hugely important for UK supply chains and businesses. It carries around 15% of all freight in and out of the UK, more than 2,000 businesses use its services and it operates a third of the cross channel ferry market.

“At the beginning of 2020, P&O operated nine major freight routes with 350 departures a week operating 16 vessels. Last year it shipped 2.2 million freight units. Its services are also closely connected to sister company P&O Ferrymasters, which specialises in shipments from parcels to full loads, though these are not all reliant on ferry services.”

He said that while other operators, such as DFDS, are stepping in to help fill the gap, “there is inevitable disruption. This has been exacerbated by the shockingly crass and insensitive way the redundancies were managed, with security staff escorting long-serving employees off ships, leading to spontaneous protests and disruptions.”

He added: “The transport union TSSA has called on the government to take over running vital ferry routes to safeguard trade and travel. That that might have to become the final solution if P&O cannot restore services.”

He continued: “P&O claims it has made a £100m loss year-on-year, which has been covered by its parent company, DP World. It argues this was unsustainable. However, travel to the Continent is now picking up again with the end of Covid restrictions, Brexit trade disruption is beginning to settle down and Easter holiday traffic is just around the corner. It’s extraordinary timing. And let’s not forget P&O received almost £15m in Government grants in 2020.”

“Ironically, Brexit and Covid 19 have had a positive impact in some ways, in ensuring most international freight transport companies have become more agile and supportive of their hard-working staff. P&O, however, seems to have missed the lessons of the last few years and returned to the 1970s. Ongoing protests mean a longer period of cross-Channel freight disruption than would have been the case had it followed best practice. Clearly, P&O should have consulted with unions and staff about any potential dismissals and notified the Government that hundreds of jobs were at risk.”

Jinks said also: “P&O’s extraordinary mishandling of the situation comes at a particularly difficult time for GB shipments to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Complex rules about shipments to Northern Ireland, to avoid the creation of a land border with the EU, are still proving difficult to navigate. P&O’s Liverpool-Dublin and Cairnryan-Larne services helped keep things moving between GB and Ireland.

“P&O accounts for close to 10% of all unitised freight movements through Dublin Port. It’s small wonder that the Irish Government has contacted P&O demanding details of its plans.”

Vice president of global freight at charter broker Air Partner, Pierre Van Der Stichele,said meanwhile that thesituation with P&O Ferries presents the risk of severe port delays, particularly at Dover and Calais. He said the increase in demand will have a severe effect on already stretched cargo and freight capacity.

He added: “We have seen an increased interest in air freight in the wake of previous situations that delayed sea freight services, such as the Suez Canal blockage last year. Additionally, there has already been a marked shift from sea to air due to ongoing sea freight problems as a result of pandemic-related disruption. We expect to see this trend continue as air freight continues to become an ever more attractive option for exporters.” 

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