Ferry operator P&O Ferries confirmed today it is laying off 800 members of staff after the pandemic caused the company to post a £100m loss year-on-year.
“Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now,” said a company spokesperson. “Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.
Staff will receive compensation packages to make up for the lack of notice, the company added, but services are likely to be suspended for 10 days.
“In making this tough decision, we are securing the future viability of our business which employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK. And we are ensuring that we can continue serving our customers in a way that they have demanded from us for many years.”
The news followed hours of speculation after Dubai-based owner DP cancelled a raft of crossing because of a company “major announcement” which sparked panic among seafarers.
“To facilitate this announcement all our vessels have been asked to discharge their passengers and cargo and stand by for further instructions,” it told staff this morning.
Union the RMT reported that security guards with handcuffs boarded the ships, after general secretary Mick Lynch called on members to stage a sit-in to protect their jobs.
“We are receiving reports that security guards at Dover are seeking to board ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour,” he said, adding that the union was seeking legal action and planning strikes across the UK.
Seafarers received support from every side, including Downing Street, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson saying the company’s firing and rehiring methods and the way the company notified staff was “completely unacceptable”
The union Nautilus as well as Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh called the decision “a national scandal” and “a betrayal of workers that kept this country stocked throughout the pandemic.”
The Telegraph also revealed that P&O hired a private security firm to provide assistance in case of retaliation from the seafarers’ side.
Commenting on the news, the Department for Transport (DfT) said it was working to ensure the free flow of traffic.
The DfT’s announced followed a statement by transport secretary Grant Shapps who said he was concerned about the implications on both workers and passengers.
“I’m working with the Kent Resilience Forum and I’ve just instructed them to become intricately involved, and other partners in this, and we’ll be taking steps later today – including ensuring that my officials will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers,” he said.
According to DP World, who is backed by the UAE government, P&O did not repay the £120m taken as loans over the past two years, after lenders gave the operator a 24-month hiatus, which ran out in March.
The Dubai logistics giant acquired the group in 2019 for £322m, 13 years after it first bought and sold it.
DP had initially acquired the company in 2006 after a three-month legal battle with Singapore-based port group PSA but was then forced to sell several assets to state holding company Dubai World.
The UAE billion-dollar company was accused in January of causing a £146m black hole into the Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund – which was set up for P&O retirees.