Explained: What has P&O done and why?

18 March 2022, 12:34 | Updated: 18 March 2022, 13:57

P&O has caused controversy in recent days
P&O has caused controversy in recent days. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The sacking of hundreds of seafarers by P&O Ferries has led to the suspension of ferry services between the UK and parts of Europe including Ireland.

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Protests have erupted at major UK ports and P&O's actions have been condemned by ministers and unions.

Here's what P&O has done and why.

What has P&O done?

On Thursday, P&O Ferries sacked all 800 of its on-board staff, via a recorded video, with no notice.

The company intends to replace them with cheaper agency workers.

Why?

The company, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, claimed the decision was to save money.

Read more: P&O crew member recalls being woken up after night shift to 'bombshell' firing video

Read more: 'Shoddy and appalling': Minister blasts P&O's mass sacking but admits Govt is 'powerless'

It insisted the decision to cut jobs was "very difficult but necessary" as it was "not a viable business" in its current state.

It blamed losses of £100 million following the slump in travel because of the pandemic.

Is it legal?

LBC's legal expert Daniel Barnett said the move by P&O is illegal unless they provide employees with the right kinds of compensation.

"It is illegal, of course it is... It's unlawful in the sense that the employees will be entitled to certain amounts of compensation," Daniel told Tom.

"There's three sets of compensation they'll be entitled to get.

"First off, notice pay - that might be a little bit for new employees, much more for long serving employees.

"Second of all, a statutory redundancy payment, again, less for new employees, generally a cap of about £10,000 on that.

"And also something called a protective award, which is an award that tribunals give if there hasn't been proper consultation before a dismissal, and that's up to 90 days' pay."

Daniel said P&O had likely taken a "calculated, cynical view" that it was cheaper in the long run to get agency labour in today and pay the compensation a year down the line.

Simon Bloch, Employment Law Partner at JMW Solicitors, said P&O had exposed itself to "a tsunami of legal challenges" and the dismissals were "certain to be ruled unfair" due to the lack of redundancy process and the apparent failure to alert the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

He added P&O's actions were "completely unacceptable on both a legal and moral level" and the company was likely to be "fully aware" of this.

Staff had to immediately collect their belongings, some using bin bags
Staff had to immediately collect their belongings, some using bin bags. Picture: Alamy

What has the reaction been?

The decision has been criticised by many.

Politicians have denounced the move, with armed forces minister James Heappey telling LBC it was "shoddy and appalling".

"[Employees] have been treated appallingly and we need to support them as best as we can," he said.

"P&O have behaved abominably."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday the move was "insensitive and cruel" and is "no way to treat employees in the 21st Century".

Read more: Government 'made aware' of P&O's mass sacking on Wednesday but 'didn’t tell anyone'

Read more: 'It's illegal': LBC's Daniel Barnett on what the P&O sackings mean for staff

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union said it was one of the most "vicious examples of despotic employer behaviour" and one of the most shameful episodes in its recent industrial history.

The union is seeking legal advice to challenge the sackings.

There have also been a number of demonstrations, with more planned in Dover, Liverpool and Hull on Friday.

Former P&O staff and RMT members blocked the road leading to the Port of Dover in protest
Former P&O staff and RMT members blocked the road leading to the Port of Dover in protest. Picture: Alamy

Which ferry services are affected?

Because of the move, the firm said early on Friday all its ferries are "unable to run for the next few days".

Impacted services include Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin, and from Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

What does that mean for passengers?

P&O said despite its ferries being unavailable, "where possible we are organising travel via an alternative operator", so it doesn't necessarily mean passengers are unable to travel.

Read more: Iain Dale says nationalise P&O Ferries after firm sacks all 800 workers

Read more: Andrew Marr: What were P&O Ferries thinking sacking 800 staff like this in the modern era?

But the company added: "Space is very limited so we suggest if your journey is not essential, please do not travel today."

Travellers at the ports of Dover and Calais were instructed by P&O to make their way to the check-in booths for Danish firm DFDS. There were no such instructions for those at Hull, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Dublin, Cairnryan or Larne.

Are there implications for freight?

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons noted more than half of the nation's freight moves through Larne port, with the MLA adding the move "will also cause supply problems for companies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as those firms based here who sell to GB".

His Stormont colleague Nichola Mallon called on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to "take every possible step to save jobs and to maintain connectivity for passengers and freight on Irish Sea routes".

What are my rights as a passenger?

Travel trade organisation Abta says customers should be informed as soon as possible when an operator expects a departure to be cancelled. If this is on the day of travel, you should be informed no later than 30 minutes after your scheduled time of departure.

Free snacks, meals and refreshments should be provided if your ferry is expected to be cancelled, Abta advises, but this need only take place if meals are available or can be reasonably supplied.

Abta says a ferry operator should offer the choice of an alternative or a refund if a service is cancelled and the operator should offer free accommodation if an overnight stay becomes necessary because of the cancellation.

Accommodation may be provided on board the ferry or ashore, while the ferry operator is also free to look at other options including asking the passenger to go home or make their own arrangements and be reimbursed for the expenses.

The ferry operator may limit accommodation costs to £66 per night per passenger for a maximum of three nights, Abta says.

What does P&O say about passengers' rights?

The company's terms and conditions on delayed or cancelled sailings state: "We will seek to provide you, your luggage and vehicle with the journey as booked although ferries, sailing times/dates and destinations may be affected by weather conditions, port closures, industrial disputes or changed by other operational requirements."

"If your departure is delayed and your journey will no longer serve any purpose, having regard to your original travel plan, a refund of the full ticket price shall be considered upon submission of reasonable supporting evidence," the conditions add.

What compensation is available for passengers?

Abta advises travellers are entitled to compensation of 25 per cent of their ticket price, for that part of the affected journey, if your service is delayed for at least one hour for a journey of duration four hours, two hours for a journey of duration between four and eight hours, three hours for a journey of duration between eight and 24 hours or six hours for a journey of duration of over 24 hours.