Labour slams “scandalous” P&O Ferries decision to sack 800 staff over Zoom

Katie Neame
© Ballygally View Images/

Labour has slammed the decision by P&O Ferries to sack all of its sailing staff with immediate effect in favour of agency staff during a Zoom call on Thursday morning.

Employees were reportedly told they were being made redundant with no notice. A spokesperson for the ferry operator said the move was necessary to “secure the future viability” of the business.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: “This scandalous action is a betrayal of the workers that kept this country stocked throughout the pandemic. Unscrupulous employers cannot be given free rein to sack their workforce in secure jobs and replace with agency staff.

“The Conservative government must not give the green light to this appalling practice and must act to secure the livelihoods of these workers.”

Labour MP for East Hull Karl Turner tweeted that the company had used an “utterly deplorable predatory practice taking full advantage of the gap in the legislation”. Some of the staff are on board a ship currently docked at Hull.

There have been suggestions from employment law specialists that the dismissals could be legal because the majority of staff are considered ‘seafarers’, meaning they fall under the Maritime Labour Convention rather than standard employment law.

Turner also criticised the move by P&O Ferries in an appearance on LBC, saying that the company had brought “two busloads” of “cheap agency workers from Eastern Europe” who are planning to board the vessel to sail the ferry. The company has encouraged their staff to apply to the agency for work.

Following the announcement, the company said its services will not operate for the “next few days” and advised passengers to use other companies.

Union leaders also strongly criticised the company’s decision to sack 800 of its staff, who were told the news for the first time in a pre-recorded Zoom call.

TSSA 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 dishonourable 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.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham tweeted that the “shocking move” from P&O Ferries “should not be tolerated” and argued that the service of staff as key workers during the pandemic had “quickly been forgotten by P&O”.

UNISON’s Christina McAnea said P&O’s “reputation will not recover from this” and expressed solidarity with the maritime professionals union Nautilus International, which urged its members “to stay onboard until further notice”.

RMT reported that security guards with handcuffs have boarded ships at Dover to remove crew. “We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the government to take action to stop what is fasting turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.”

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