The decision by a Dubai-owned ferry firm to fire 800 UK-based staff with no notice is “wholly unacceptable,” a UK minister has said.
P&O Ferries, which was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, sparked outrage on Thursday when it fired 800 seafarers without any prior notice.
The firm said the affected employees had been handed immediate severance notices with compensation packages for the “lack of advance notice.”
It insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.
P&O Ferries said in a statement: “We have made a £100 million ($132 million) 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.”
Sailings were halted on Thursday morning and would remain suspended “for the next few days,” the firm told passengers.
In a statement to the House of Commons, transport minister Robert Courts said: “These are hardworking, dedicated staff who have given years in service to P&O. The way they have been treated today is wholly unacceptable and my thoughts are first and foremost with them.
“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 way in which P&O have approached this issue, a point I have made crystal clear to P&O’s management when I spoke to them earlier this afternoon."
Courts said he was “extremely concerned and frankly angry” at the way workers have been treated by the firm, and said the staff had been “signposted” to support from the Department of Work and Pensions.
The main opposition Labour Party said this is not enough and urged the government to secure the livelihoods of the affected workers.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “There are images circulating of what we are told are handcuff-trained security, some wearing balaclavas, marching British crew off their ships.”
She said this is “not a corporate restructure” but “the action of thugs.”
“An overseas conglomerate cannot not be given free rein to sack workers in secure jobs here in Britain at the click of a button and replace them with agency staff,” she said.
She said the government “must not give the green light to this appalling practice and must act now to secure the livelihoods of these workers.”
The shadow minister insisted the sackings are the “cruel consequence” of the Conservative government’s failure to outlaw “fire and rehire.”
Courts denied the government had “sided with bad bosses,” adding ministers will “continue to do everything we can to support British seafarers.”