The Department for Transport knew of P&O’s plans to axe 800 employees the day before it was announced, No10 has revealed.
Despite previously claiming to be unaware of plans to sack staff, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmed some officials had been informed by P&O, a day before it was announced on Wednesday.
The spokesperson said officials are investigating whether P&O Ferries broke the law, while describing the firm’s behaviour as “extreme”.
“We expect companies to treat their employees fairly. It is only in extreme circumstances that employers need to make extreme decisions to secure the future of their businesses if all other avenues have failed, including negotiations between employer and employees.
“We don’t believe this was the case for P&O staff,” he said, adding: “We are looking into this very carefully.”
Announcing the decision to staff, chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite informed affected staff the move to axe 800 employees will “secure the future of our business and set it up for growth”.
P&O said early on Friday it would not be able to operate services “for the next few days” from Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland. A spokesperson for P&O said “all affected crew who worked yesterday were notified face-to-face” and apologised for the shock it may have caused.
Downing St examining whether P&O broke any rules
17:54 , Daniel Keane
Downing Street said the Government is looking to see if P&O has broken any rules.
“We are looking very closely at the actions that this company has taken to see whether they acted within the rules,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“Once we have concluded that, we will decide what the ramifications are.
“Obviously there are a lot of valid questions in relation to existing contracts.”
Shapps urges P&O to change course
17:38 , Daniel Keane
Mr Shapps urged P&O Ferries to change course.
His letter continued: “The way in which your company has made these changes has fundamentally changed the way the British public feels about P&O Ferries – with many believing that they have seen the company’s true colours.
“I would therefore urge you to begin to repair the damage that has been caused to your company’s reputation, by pausing the changes announced yesterday and starting a true dialogue with the seafarers and the trade unions. I am willing to facilitate any such dialogue through any possible means.
“It is not too late for P&O Ferries to salvage this situation and I await your urgent response.”
P&O ‘had only let small group of officials know’ about sackings
17:11 , Daniel Keane
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said P&O Ferries had only let a “very small group” of officials know about the decision on Wednesday evening, meaning it was “far too late” for the Government to intervene.
In a letter addressed to P&O Ferries chairman Robert Woods, he said: “Following the Maritime Minister’s call with your company yesterday, I am writing to express my anger and disappointment about the action that P&O took yesterday to make 800 seafarers redundant without notice and without consultation.
“The lack of engagement, of prior notice, or of any empathy whatsoever for your workers that P&O demonstrated yesterday was completely unacceptable.
“Seafarers make a huge contribution to this country, and many have dedicated years of service to P&O, and I was frankly staggered yesterday at the way you dismissed them with zero respect.
“While I accept this was a commercial decision for P&O to take, I was also deeply concerned at the way in which this decision was communicated to the Government.
“Although I understand you told a very small group of officials the evening before the announcement, this was clearly far too late for the Government to engage in something you had obviously been planning for some time and were determined to force through.”
Corbyn says Govt should ‘act urgently’
16:52 , Daniel Keane
Jeremy Corbyn said the Government “should be doing something very urgent” about the sacking of 800 P&O Ferries workers.
Speaking to protesters outside the central London offices of DP World, which owns P&O Ferries, the former Labour leader said: “What P&O has done is a disgrace and disgusting by any standard.”
Mr Corbyn called on all trade unions to join the fight of P&O workers who were sacked.
He said: “This is a fight we have to take on.
“It has been brought to us, we will fight it and we will win.”
P&O aiming to resume services as early as tomorrow
16:30 , Daniel Keane
The statement added: “Our aim is to have the first of our services running again in the next day or two as we lose £1m a day for each day they are not moving.
“The teams escorting the seafarers off our vessels were totally professional in handling this difficult task with all appropriate sensitivity.
“Contrary to rumours, none of our people wore balaclavas nor were they directed to use handcuffs nor force.”
P&O acknowledges that sackings ‘came without warning’
16:14 , Daniel Keane
In a new statement issued this afternoon, P&O Ferries acknowledged that the sackings “came without warning or prior consultation, and we fully understand that this has caused distress for them and their families”.
The statement added: “The changes we’ve made bring us into line with standard industry practice.”
“All affected crew who were working yesterday were notified face-to-face and in-person on board their vessels.
“For crew who were off, P&O Ferries made all efforts to notify them personally: they were individually called on the phone, as well as via email and text.
“Virtual meetings were also held but only 261 of our 800 affected staff were on those calls.
“To try to minimise disruption for our customers, we contacted everyone we could reach.
“If any passengers have any queries about travelling with us, we encourage them to get in touch with our customer services team.”
Watch: Shapps criticises P&O for ‘brutal treatment’ of staff
15:50 , Daniel Keane
Agency seafarers quit after hearing of staff sacking
15:25 , Bill Mcloughlin
Agency seafarers hired to replace sacked P&O staff at Cairnryan have quit after hearing the news.
Gavin Hamilton, from Paisley said he was not given any information about the vessel he was working on.
“It was news to us,” said Gavin. “We were told the crew on board wouldn’t lose their jobs, they were going to be offered contracts.
“We later discovered through the news that wasn’t going to be the case and this wasn’t exactly the friendly handover we were told it was going to be.”
He also said he has now requested not to work for P&O for the time being, the BBC reports.
He added: “When we realised the RMT were involved and this was a big union dispute, we didn’t want to be part of that. To us, boarding that ship was like crossing a picket line.”
Hundreds of demonstrators gather in Liverpool
15:00 , Daniel Keane
About 400 demonstrators gathered outside the Port of Liverpool for the protest against P&O’s decision to sack workers.
Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that in this day and age a company, just overnight, can say that’s the end of your job, that’s the end of your loyal service, you’re sacked and you’ve got no right to appeal.”
RMT Secretary says P&O workers will ‘keep fighting’
14:44 , Daniel Keane
The national secretary of the RMT said that P&O workers will keep fighting, in light of many losing their jobs.
Darren Procter said: “This is only the start. This is only day one.”
He spoke to a crowd of around 250 demonstrators who came to protest in Devon against 800 P&O workers losing their jobs via a video link.
When asked how confident he was about workers getting their jobs back, he said: “We ain’t gonna lose, we ain’t gonna lose.
“We’re going to make sure our workers get back onboard their vessels.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham says Government should consider nationalising P&O
13:34 , Sami Quadri
Burnham added: “I say to the Prime Minister: you have to step in and you have to deliver on your commitment to strengthen employment law so this kind of gangster practice can’t be allowed to happen any more.”
Downing Street warns P&O Ferries it is ‘looking very closely’ at sackings
13:26 , Sami Quadri
Downing Street has warned P&O Ferries it is “looking very closely” at the legality of its decision to sack 800 seafarers.
The staff were fired without notice on Thursday and replaced with cheaper agency workers.
Demonstrations are being held at ports on Friday, with unions calling for a boycott of the company.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government was looking to see if P&O has broken rules.
“We are looking very closely at the actions that this company has taken to see whether they acted within the rules,” the spokesman said.
“Once we have concluded that, we will decide what the ramifications are.
“Obviously there are a lot of valid questions in relation to existing contracts.”
He said companies should only make “extreme decisions to secure the future of their business if all other avenues have failed”, adding: “We don’t believe this was the case for P&O staff but we are looking into this very carefully.”
Grant Shapps condemns P&O ferries over sackings
13:07 , Sami Quadri
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has criticised the way P&O Ferries handled the sacking of 800 seafarers.
He told Sky News: “If you need to reshape your company, if you need to make people redundant, there are laws and rules to do that.
“One thing not to do is record a video on Zoom and play it 30 minutes before people are dismissed.
“If you need to get rid of people, because you need to change the shape of a company, you need to sit around the table with them and discuss those redundancies.
“I want to see the P&O management do that even now. It’s not too late for them to sit down with the workers, sit down with the unions, and I’ll be putting pressure on all sides for them to do that.
“But I’ll be going further. I’ll be looking at whether there are contracts the Government might have with P&O. I’ve asked my officials, legal teams, to look at whether they exist.”
Protesters gather outside ferry terminal in Hull
13:05 , Sami Quadri
Around 200 protesters gathered outside the ferry terminal compound in Hull before marching onto the site and banging on the doors of the terminal building.
The marchers, including a number of sacked workers, walked past the tied-up Pride of Hull ferry but got no response from anyone inside the P&O building.
Outside the gates, the rally was addressed by union officials as well as former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Labour’s Hull East MP Karl Turner.
Further reaction from P&O sackings
12:56 , Bill Mcloughlin
Rachel Suff, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “Business leaders must recognise that sacking staff on the spot via video, and with no notice, is inhumane and very difficult to justify, whatever the circumstance.
“While it is a harsh reality that organisations sometimes must make job cuts, there is never any excuse for employers not to fully consider the wellbeing and financial costs to workers, and how to minimise these.
“Businesses that fail to meet their legal and moral obligations to consult and treat people fairly face significant risks and costs and, just as importantly, will suffer long-lasting damage to staff morale and employment relations, as well as to their reputation and brand.
“Employers should always act with integrity and compassion and respect the dignity of their staff throughout the process if they have to take decisions that impact people’s employment.”
Law firm says sacked employees ‘may have strong case’ for unfair dismissal
12:24 , Bill Mcloughlin
Commenting on P&O’s decision, Jeremy Coy, senior associate in the employment team at Russell-Cooke, said: “P&O’s decision to make a large number of employees redundant without apparent warning or consultation is not unprecedented but usually employers do give some notice or warning.
“Given the scale and the consequences of the decision it has understandably resulted in wide news coverage. By law, where employers propose to make 20 or more employees redundant within a period of 90 days or less, they must consult on the proposal with representatives of the affected employees through unions or other elected representatives.
“Where they do not, however, this does not mean employees cannot be dismissed. It means that they may have strong claims for unfair dismissal and for a failure to consult which would typically entitle them to claim compensation but not to insist they are rehired.
“Only time will tell whether P&O will reconsider their decision or perhaps more likely reach a financial agreement with the employees.”
City comment: P&O Ferries’ Dubai owners can afford to treat sailors much better than this
11:41 , Bill Mcloughlin
P&O Ferries’ decision to sack its 800 British crew and replace them with agency staff is scandalous.
The operator of Channel crossings cancelled all ships yesterday morning and told staff to expect a “major company announcement”. The big announcement was they were all fired on the spot.P&O claims it had made “very difficult but necessary decision” to “secure the future viability of our business”.“
We have made a £100 million loss year-on-year, which has been covered by our parent DP World,” it said. “This is not sustainable.”
That might sound reasonable until you take even the most cursory look at DP World’s finances. Last week — last week! — the company was shouting about “record” results, with profits up 15% to $3.8 billion and a healthy margin of 35.5%. It is owned by Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund, which has assets of £200 billion. This is hardly breadline stuff.
Read our story here.
Long queues at Dover port
10:36 , Bill Mcloughlin
Lorries queues have sparked at the Port of Dover after P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices.
P&O has now become ‘toxic’ says travel expert
10:10 , Bill Mcloughlin
P&O must ‘come up with a different plan’ says Labour MP
09:51 , Bill Mcloughlin
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East called on the Government to force P&O to “come up with a different plan”.
Mr Turner told the BBC: “What I say to the Government is you’ve got to get P&O into a position where they’re prepared to negotiate with the trade union members.
“And they’ve got to come up with a different plan. They can’t just summarily dismiss people without any consultation or notice. It’s 800 jobs across the country.”
P&O should hand back £10m Covid furlough payments, suggests minister
09:22 , Bill Mcloughlin
A minister has said it would be “the right thing to do” for ferry operator P&O to hand back £10 million in Government furlough payments following its “disgraceful” decision to sack 800 staff on Thursday without warning.
The move by P&O, which is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World, to sack the sailors and replace them with cheaper staff sparked outrage from union bosses and politicians on all sides.
The lack of consultation with staff, unions and the Government has led to calls for the company to reimburse £10m it received in furlough cash during the Covid pandemic.
The support was paid out by the Government after the firm’s ferry services, a crucial transport link between the UK and Europe, had to be slashed during Covid lockdowns and because of travel restrictions.
Read our story here.
P&O staff and other trades unionists to join demonstrations in Dover, Liverpool, and Hull on Friday
09:11 , Bill Mcloughlin
P&O staff and other trades unionists will join demonstrations in Dover, Liverpool, and Hull on Friday, condemning P&O for sacking 800 staff.
The company, which is funded by the Dubai Royal Family, stunned workers in a pre-recorded Zoom call, when they informed staff they were being dismissed and would be replaced by cheap agency labour from abroad.
When workers rightly refused to simply accept this despotic decision, private security staff with handcuffs, believed to have been hired by the company, began to drag workers off the ships.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is vital workers from every industry mobilise for the demonstrations on Friday.
“We need to send a message to ruthless employers and the government alike, that when working people are treated so abysmally, there is a militant response from the trade union movement.
“This example of gangster capitalism which our members in P&O have been subjected, is what lies ahead for other workers up and down the country if we do not all take a stand.”
Agency staff will operate ships ‘safely’ says UK Chamber of Shipping
08:55 , Bill Mcloughlin
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m content and very confident that P&O will have put procedures in place to ensure that the individuals that are going to be in control of those vessels will be familiar with the ships, familiar with the systems and will be competent and qualified to operate those vessels in a safe manner.”
Peter Aylott, of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said he was “confident” that the agency workers hired by P&O Ferries to replace its seafarers will operate ships safely.
Government unable to stop P&O staff replacement, says minister
08:34 , Bill Mcloughlin
Armed forces minister, James Heappey has admitted there is little the Government can do to stop P&O replacing its seafarers with cheap agency staff.
After the sacking of 800 UK staff, he told BBC Breakfast: “I think that is the reality.
“The Government anger will mean very little to those who have been sacked. I do feel very sorry for those people.
“I do think P&O have behaved disgracefully and I wish that P&O had given the Government and the unions more opportunity to engage with them to try to save those jobs.
“Ultimately, it is not something the Government can stop P&O from doing. Now the focus will be on supporting those who have lost their jobs.”
P&O decision a ‘dark day’ says union
08:15 , Bill Mcloughlin
In further comments, the general secretary of Nautilus International told the Today programme: “It is a dark day in the shipping industry.
“I’ve been in this game for over 40 years and I’ve seen some curveballs and some shocking developments over that time, but this is a new low for a shipping company.
“To treat the due legal process in such an underhand and callous way has shocked me, taken my breath away.”
‘Horrendous way to treat staff’ says armed forces minister
07:59 , Bill Mcloughlin
Speaking on Sky News, James Heappey, said P&O’s decision to sack staff was “horrendous”.
He also added there is “a lot of anger” within the Ministry for Transport following the decision.
P&O move raises ‘safety concerns’ says industry insider
07:51 , Bill Mcloughlin
Mark Dickinson general secretary of maritime trade union Nautilus International said there are “serious safety concerns” around the decision by P&O Ferries to replace its seafarers with agency workers.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are serious safety concerns, which is why the company cannot reintroduce services with the lower-paid agency crew that they’ve recruited via this company called International Ferry Management of Malta.”
Mr Dickinson said the Maritime Coastguard Agency must be “absolutely clear and confident that those new crew, unfamiliar with the vessels, unfamiliar with the routes, with the berths” can operate ships safely.
He added: “This is an intensely worrying situation.
“We’ve written to the Maritime Coastguard Agency and we hope and we pray that they will do their job.
“I know they will. They will do their job and make sure the ships are safe.”
Labour MP criticises P&O move
07:37 , Bill Mcloughlin
Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central said P&O ferries will “regret this day” after sacking staff.
P&O decision ‘incoherent’ and ‘abhorrent’ says travel expert
07:29 , Bill Mcloughlin
Following P&O’s decision to sack 800 staff members, travel expert Simon Calder, has criticised the firm for its “Dickensian” actions.
“It’s simply incoherent as well as abhorrent,” he told ITV’s Good morning Britain.
“It’s absolutely Dickensian how staff have been treated.”