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P&O Ferries latest news LIVE: Chaos at Dover as lorries stranded after operator sacks 800 crew members

·22-min read
P&O Ferries latest news LIVE: Chaos at Dover as lorries stranded after operator sacks 800 crew members

The Port of Dover was plunged into chaos on Thursday afternoon after P&O Ferries sacked 800 crew members.

Lorries and passengers were left stranded in check-in lines at the port as employees staged protests, with pictures showing huge queues of cars stuck in gridlock.

The firm sparked fury after announcing that all 800 of its seafarers would be made redundant to stem “unsustainable” financial losses.

The RMT Union instructed staff to stay on board vessels once they were in dock or risk being “locked out” of their jobs.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “We have instructed our members to remain onboard and are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected, and that the Secretary of State intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”

P&O told customers to use rival operators after suspending its operations.

Dover: P&O ferry services suspend sailings

That is the end of the Evening Standard’s coverage of the P&O sackings. Good night

22:23 , Barney Davis

Lawyers representing P&O union staff say sackings unlawful

20:36 , Barney Davis

Social justice law firm, Thompsons Solicitors, is acting for the RMT union to fight on behalf of the sacked P&O Ferries workforce.

Neil Todd, trade union law expert at Thompsons Solicitors, said:

“P&O’s sudden decision to fire all 800 UK staff – via a pre-recorded video call and without a single shred of consultation - is a shocking disregard of the most basic employment law.

“The law states that if you’re dismissing more than 20 employees, you must consult with them. The larger the number of employees being dismissed, the longer the consultation should be – up to 45 days. Aside from the legal requirement for due process to be followed, it’s simple common decency to communicate openly, honestly and in good time with your employees, many of whom will have worked loyally for the company for years.

“To blame COVID-19 for these sackings, when P&O took furlough payments and is part of a hugely profitable group of companies, is beyond cynical.

“This is a shocking example of a major British employer acting in a wholly atrocious manner - attempting to bypass unions, sack hardworking employees and instead hire staff from agencies who will be underpaid and un-unionised. This is hardly the post-Brexit Britain that the Conservatives promised.

“In our view what they did was unlawful and we are considering all options including employment tribunal claims and High Court proceedings.”

Downing Street condemn P&O firings

20:26 , Barney Davis

Number 10 says tactics used by P&O to sack 800 crew were “completely unacceptable”.

Boris Johnson’s spokespersons said officials were in “urgent” talks with the company about its plans.

“We do not agree with the practice of fire and rehire and would be dismayed if this is the outcome they were seeking.”

People onboard the P&O European Causeway ferry docked at Larne Port (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)
People onboard the P&O European Causeway ferry docked at Larne Port (David Young/PA) (PA Wire)

Minister 'angry' at P&O's treatment of workers

20:14 , Barney Davis

Starmer: ‘My blood is boiling’ over P&O sackings

18:20 , Barney Davis

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the treatment of 800 seafarers sacked by P&O was “disgusting”.

“It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting,” he told BBC Radio Humberside.

“This is a company that had furlough during the Covid crisis. It is absolutely disgusting what they are trying to do. They mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.

“I just wish the Government had done what we said and strengthened employment rights so they couldn’t do this kind of thing.

“The Government said it was going to deal with this sort of situation. It hasn’t done it.”

Nationwide protests announced across three ports -RMT Union

18:07 , Barney Davis

Days of disruption expected

18:04 , Barney Davis

Travellers have been warned they face days of disruption following P&O’s “appalling” decision to sack 800 seafarers, a move which left the Government “angry”.

Transport minister Robert Courts led the condemnation of the decision by the ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics firm DP World in 2019, to replace the workers with cheaper agency staff.

Mr Courts told MPs that routes affected included Dover to Calais, Larne to Cairnryan, Dublin to Liverpool, and Hull to Rotterdam, but that “alternative provision” from other operators was being provided.

Labour compared the treatment of workers to the “action of thugs”.

P&O bosses spent £147million on golf tournaments despite £146million pensions blackhole - MP

18:03 , Barney Davis

Labour’s Barry Gardiner says P&O have a £146m deficit in their pension fund. Yet their parent company spent £147m sponsoring a golf tournament, he says. He says the company has been treating the government “like fools”.

Courts says he agrees with the general point he is making about how the company has behaved.

The Government first found out about P&O’s decision to fire its staff on Wednesday night, a minister said.

17:56 , Barney Davis

Labour MP Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) said: “P&O have clearly been working on this for some time. Can the minister tell us when they first informed the Government of their intentions?”

Transport minister Robert Courts replied: “He is probably right, that P&O have been considering this for some time. The Government was first informed of this during yesterday evening.”

Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell warned that seafarers are “safety critical workers working in a safety critical industry”, and called on the Government to ensure that “no ship sails with agency staff” because of the safety risk.

RMT secretary says P&O redundancies show state of capitalism

17:44 , Barney Davis

“This is the state of capitalism in Britain at the moment,” says RMT Union general secretary Mick Lynch.

“They’ve recruited a set of security guards who were told to turn up with handcuffs and first aid training.”

He tells BBC he is expecting a response from a minister in next hour and warns that DP World has its eye on the new freeports and will be looking to drive down pay and conditions there too.

‘Wish us luck’ Human cost of P&O firings

17:35 , Barney Davis

One seafarer claiming to have worked for P&O for ten years has spoken of his disappointment at the decision.

‘We thought dark days of free market had gone'- former minister says

17:26 , Barney Davis

Conservative former transport minister Sir John Hayes criticised the “capricious, careless, callous” decision by P&O Ferries, and suggested the Government should “recover any monies granted to P&O during the pandemic” in a bid to reverse it.

He added: “Don’t let anyone tell me this is the free market. The free market put little girls in factories and boys down mines, and both at risk on the high seas; we thought those dark days had gone – P&O are either too dim to see that or too dastardly to know it.”

The crew of the Pride of Hull are leaving the ship after a standoff with P&O came to an end.

17:22 , Barney Davis

RMT organiser for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Gaz Jackson said the crew were “absolutely devastated” and described P&O’s actions as “unacceptable” and “unforgivable”.

He told reporters at King George Dock in Hull: “I got a phone call at 8am saying something was going to happen at P&O, I got on board and spoke to the captain and we said we’ve got to lift the gangway until we’ve got an agreement.

“At 11am ratings and officers were informed there was going to be a pre-recorded Zoom meeting. After that two to three-minute call all the crew were made redundant.”

P&O Ferries has fired 800 seafarers as it is ‘not a viable business’ in its current state (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
P&O Ferries has fired 800 seafarers as it is ‘not a viable business’ in its current state (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Jackson praised the captain for his “brave decision” to lift the gangway “for the safety of the crew”, saying security guards were “going to pull us off if we weren’t going to get off”. He said negotiations had come to an end when the company agreed to provide paperwork requested by the union.

Mr Jackson said: “The crew are absolutely devastated. I’ve seen grown men crying on there because they don’t know where they’re going to go from today.”

He said it is “very likely” the new crew “won’t be British seafarers”.

Mr Jackson said the union would hold demonstrations at P&O ports and had a “legal injunction against the company”.

Minister ignores calls to suspend P&O licences

17:21 , Barney Davis

Peter Bone says British people will not choose to travel with P&O Ferries in the future. Asks why their licences are not revoked.Transport minister Robert Courts, who admits he’s spoken to P&O management, agrees that British public will notice but doesn’t answer whether licences will be affected.

He says any ramifications that arise from the sackings will be put right by themselves and should not cost the taxpayer anything.

Labour MP Mike Amesbury claims £50million paid to P&O during furlough.

Robert Courts urges seafarers to obtain their own independent legal advice on maritime contracts not look to Government ministers.

‘Outlaw fire and rehire’: Government must act to secure livelihoods of P&O staff

17:14 , Barney Davis

The Government must act now to secure the livelihoods of 800 staff made redundant by P&O and not just send them to the Department of Work and Pensions, Labour has said.

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. This is not a corporate restructure, it’s not the way we go about business in this country.

“It is beneath contempt. The action of thugs. It is quite simply a scandal that this Dubai-owned company, which received millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, have upended the lives of 800 British workers, all while the profits of their owners, DP World, soared by 52% in the first half of 2021.”

The Labour frontbencher insisted the sackings are the “cruel consequence” of the Government’s failure to outlaw fire and rehire.

She said: “This must be set within a context. For far too long, this Government has sat on their hands and chosen to side with bad bosses by failing to take action to outlaw fire and rehire. This is the cruel consequence of a decade of attacks on workers’ rights. No more excuses. It’s time for ministers to keep the promises they have made, deliver for workers’ rights, and outlaw fire and rehire without delay.”

Disruption to ferry routes expected for 10 days - minister

17:09 , Barney Davis

Transport minister Robert Courts said passengers should expect disruption to ferry routes in coming days, with P&O likely to suspend all services for as long as 10 days.

He told MPs: “In taking this decision to make seafarers redundant, P&O have also today informed us they will be suspending services for approximately a week to 10 days while they locate new crew.”

He told MPs that routes affected included Dover to Calais, Larne to Cairnryan, Dublin to Liverpool, and Hull to Rotterdam, but that “alternative provision” from other operators was being provided.

Mr Courts said: “Passengers will still be able to travel to and from the UK, including across the Channel, with freight coming in and out of the country.

“I must warn travellers they should expect some disruption over the coming days.”

Transport Minister says he hopes unions were consulted before P&O firings

17:07 , Barney Davis

Speaking in the House of Commons Robert Courts, Transport Minister, said it is still an evolving situation and there should be no shortcuts on safety.

Natalie Elphicke, Dover MP, accuses P&O bosses and DP World of being “shabby, disgraceful and utterly unacceptable” with 600 loyal workers in Dover.She says they have brought traffic disruption and put at risk economy and trade routes through it. She says more needs to be done to hold P&O to account.

Robert Courts agrees and says he does believe that P&O bosses acted unacceptably.

Minister calls P&O’s decision to fire 800 members staff with no notice ‘wholly unacceptable'

17:01 , Matt Watts

A minister has condemned P&O’s decision to fire 800 members staff with no notice as “wholly unacceptable”.

Opening a statement on the matter, transport minister Robert Courts told the Commons: “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.

“I am extremely concerned and frankly angry at the way workers have been treated by P&O.”

Mr Courts said the staff had been “signposted” to support from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Downing St ‘not given notice of P&O’s plans’

16:27 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street said the Government was not given any advance notice by P&O of the company's plans.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said officials were in "urgent" talks to find out what the company's plans were.

"We weren't given any notice to this. We are speaking to the company to understand what approach it is taking," the spokesman said.

"We do not agree with the practice of fire and rehire and would be dismayed if this is the outcome they were seeking to achieve."

The spokesman said he did not believe the issue was discussed when Boris Johnson was in the UAE on Wednesday, even though the company is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.

Scottish Labour blast ‘devastating decision'

16:13 , Daniel Keane

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar described P&O’s actions as a “devastating decision for all the staff, their families and their communities, and an attack on trade unions”.

He added: “Ferry workers were on the frontline through the pandemic, keeping essential services going – and this is how they are being repaid.

“This will cost vital jobs, plunging people into unemployment in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and it will undermine pay and conditions for years to come.”

Mass redundancies at P&O ‘reminder of devastation wreaked by Covid on travel’

16:00 , Daniel Keane

Susannah Streeter, an analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The shock announcement of mass redundancies at P&O, as the company struggles with deep losses is another reminder of the devastation Covid has wreaked on the travel industry. From airlines to cruise companies, hotel chains to tour operators, it’s been a hugely challenging two years, with many companies faced with taking on a huge burden of extra debt to try and stay in business.

“P&O has faced woes before, and financial problems stretch back two decades when once popular routes were scrapped.

“That was blamed on low-cost airlines and channel tunnel bookings eating into the once steady stream of holidaymakers heading on its vessels to the continent every summer.”

She cited “mass cancellations” due to lockdown and “fluctuating travel restrictions” as part of the reason for P&O’s downfall.

Pictured: Former P&O staff and RMT members block the road leading to the Port of Dover

15:47 , Daniel Keane


Captain addresses workers on Pride of Hull ship

15:34 , Daniel Keane

Labour MP Karl Turner has tweeted this picture of a Captain addressing employees on the Pride of Hull ship.

Captain Eugene Favier made the speech in front of workers as they staged a sit-in protest this afternoon.

Factbox: P&O Ferries

15:22 , Oscar-Williams Grut

- P&O Ferries operates four routes, Dover to Calais, Cairnryan to Larne, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, so across the English Channel, North Sea, and Irish Sea

- It employs almost 4,000 members of staff and has a fleet of more than 20 ships

- P&O operates more than 30,000 sailings a year

- It carries more than 10 million passengers, 1.6 million cars, and 2.2 million freight units annually

Sacked workers clash with motorists in Dover

15:10 , Daniel Keane

Fired P&O Ferries workers in Dover have clashed with motorists after blocking a road close to the port.

Dozens of employees who lost their jobs stood on the road with banners and flags saying "Stop the P&O Jobs carve up".

A lorry driver trying to enter the port began shouting and beeping at those in the road, before being told "we're not moving".

One of the protesters, who had worked for the company for decades, said: "I refuse to move from this road, all this service for nothing.

"The police will have to take me away."

P&O decision ‘contravenes requirements needed for normal mass reduncancy’, lawyer claims

14:56 , Daniel Keane

Tom Long, partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said that P&O's decision to fire 800 staff with immediate effect “appears to contravene the requirements needed for a normal mass redundancy”.

He said: "Where an employer plans to make 20 or more redundancies, there is a requirement for a period of consultation with employee representatives, such as a trade union. That period is 45 days, where 100 or more redundancies are planned in any one location.

"As such, P&O would be expected to undergo this process before making any mass dismissals. It's not evident whether this has happened, although it would appear not.

"If employees are made redundant they can bring a claim of unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, with the maximum compensation being up to a year's salary in most cases. If they were not paid their notice or a statutory redundancy payment, claims could also be brought for these payments.

"If P&O failed to carry out appropriate collective consultation in advance of the dismissals, the trade unions could bring a claim about that failure, with a potential award of up to 90 days' gross pay per affected employee if the claim succeeded.”

Sturgeon ‘deeply concerned’ by P&O developments

14:45 , Daniel Keane

Security guards ‘with handcuffs removing crew from ships’, RMT claims

14:36 , Daniel Keane

Security guards with handcuffs are attempting to board ships at Dover to remove crew, the RMT Union has claimed.

General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the government to take action to stop what is fast turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.

“If this happens at P&O it can happen anywhere and we are calling for mass trade union and wider public mobilisation and protest against the company.”

Labour MP criticises P&O’s ‘shameful’ actions

14:24 , Bill Mcloughlin

Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson said people in balaclavas are "taking British crew off these ships", describing P&O's actions as "shameful".

Making a point of order in the House of Commons, the MP for Kingston upon Hull North said: "Members in port constituencies, not least in northern England, will be shocked at the news being reported about DP World, who own P&O Ferries, suspending services this morning, sacking 800 British P&O workers immediately by pre-recorded video message, and them being replaced by agency staff.

"I understand from the RMT union that these agency staff, mainly from overseas, are in buses on the quayside with a security firm, hired by DP World, wearing balaclavas and taking British crew off these ships.

“This is shameful and it goes against all norms of fair and reasonable behaviour."

Nicola Sturgeon paying close attention to situation

14:19 , Bill Mcloughlin

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she will paying close attention to P&O’s situation.

Due to the importance of the Cairnryan to Larne route, she said the news is “seriously worrying”.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions on Thursday after reports that P&O was about to announce major redundancies, she said: "For Scotland, the relevant issue here is the Cairnryan-Larne route and we will pay particular attention to any implications for that.

"This will be a seriously worrying time for those who work for P&O."

P&O releases second statement

14:05 , Bill Mcloughlin

P&O Ferries has released a second statement following the announcement that it would sack 800 seafarers.

It said in another statement: "P&O Ferries have today announced a programme of work to become a more competitive and efficient operator, providing a better service to our customers across the tourism and freight industries.

“While we enact these changes, there will be significant disruption across P&O Ferries services over the next few days, however we are working to minimise the impact on your journey.

“If travelling on our Dover/Calais route please arrive at the port as booked and we will arrange to get you away on an alternative carrier as quickly as possible. Once at the port please make your way to the DFDS check-in booths. “

P&O user feels ‘browned off’ after ferry cancellation

13:55 , Daniel Keane

Keith Jones, from Harrogate, has been waiting in the P&O ferry terminal car park in Hull since before 8am, when he was due to be sailing to Rotterdam for a heavy haulage show on Saturday.

He said: “We might go to Harwich but it’s a long old trek and we’ve got to be certain we could get on something.

“I’m a bit browned off because it’s a fair bit of money and we were actually booked on before the pandemic, so they’ve had the money for two years and transferred us on to this one. Now it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

“I’m a bit out of pocket. We’ve got a hotel booked.”

Govt to make Commons statement at 5pm

13:49 , Daniel Keane

The Government will make a Commons statement on P&O ferries at 5pm on Thursday.

It follows the news that transport secretary Grant Shapps’ has urgently been discussing the matter with P&O.

Union slams ‘dangerous’ move by P&O

13:40 , Daniel Keane

Reacting to the news, Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Roz Foyer said: “This is a damning, outrageous move from P&O and we offer our full support to the RMT union and all their members.

“We cannot - and will not - permit hundreds of workers to be sacked on the spot to be replaced by cheaper labour whilst P&O scramble to remain viable.

“We need to see an urgent statement from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government on how they intend to halt this scandalous misuse of employer power.”

Crew members ‘instructed not to leave’

13:34 , Daniel Keane

RMT members currently on board ships have been instructed by the union not to leave.

A crew member, who wished to remain anonymous, told KentOnline: “As of effect from today, all our contracts have been terminated and we’ve all been made redundant.”

Confirmed: P&O Ferries sacks 800 employees

13:26 , Daniel Keane

P&O Ferries has just released a statement confirming the news that 800 employees will be made redundant.

It reads: “P&O Ferries plays a critical role in keeping trade flowing, supply chains moving, and connecting families and friends across the North and Irish seas and the English Channel. We have been at the heart of this service for years and we are committed to serving these vital routes.

“However, in its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m 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.

“These circumstances have resulted in a very difficult but necessary decision, which was only taken after seriously considering all the available options.

“As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages.”

The situation so far

13:19 , Daniel Keane

- P&O Ferries has suspended sailings - with speculation rife that it is preparing to sack hundreds of workers.

- We are expecting a “major announcement” soon, with the firm pledging to “secure the long-term viability of P&O Ferries”

- Labour MP Karl Turner posted a photograph of a coach which he claimed contained “new foreign crew waiting to board the Pride of Hull” at King George Dock, Hull

- The firm has nearly 4,000 employees and was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World for £322 million in 2019

- It operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland