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

18 March 2022, 10:14 | Updated: 18 March 2022, 12:44

Minister says P&O have treated staff in a shoddy and appalling manner

By Sophie Barnett

A minister has branded P&O Ferries' treatment of their staff as "shoddy and appalling" after the company sacked 800 British seafarers via a video call to replace them with cheaper labour.

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The company has come under fire for its "abominable" dismissal of its entire fleet of crew on Thursday, leading to staff refusing to leave ships docked at ports.

Shocking scenes showed security staff wearing balaclavas hauling staff off ships as they brought on agency members to replace them.

P&O has been slammed for "betraying British workers" but said the "difficult" move was a result of the business becoming "unviable".

The head of the RMT Union told LBC the Government was "made aware" of P&O's plans to sack their entire British workforce the day before the public announcement, however Mr Heappey said he understands this was not the case.

"As far as I knew the Government found out about this almost as late in the day as the workers themselves did," he told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, when pressed on whether the company asked for a bailout at the middle of the week.

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

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

P&O protesters in Dover

He described the move as "shoddy and appalling" and said it's "frustrating" the government is powerless to stop it.

He said: "It's frustrating when in government you like to think you are kind of all powerful and able to make everything work if only you apply yourself, and sometimes you can't.

"I've been challenged this morning, and rightly, that all I'm doing really is saying it's all shoddy and appalling and shouldn't have happened, and that would be no consolation to all of the workers.

"They've been treated appallingly and we need to support them as best as we can. But P&O have behaved abominably."

Mr Heappey previously said the government is unable to prevent P&O sacking seafarers and replacing them with cheaper agency staff.

Sacked P&O workers block the Port of Dover

He said the company had behaved "disgracefully" but acknowledged the Government was powerless to stop it.

"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," he said.

Downing Street has warned P&O Ferries there could be "ramifications" over its decision to sack its workforce.

Sacked P&O worker explains he was woken to watch a video sacking him

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the Government was looking to see if the company's actions broke the relevant rules.

it said ministers do not believe P&O explored all possible avenues to secure the future of their business before making staff redundant.

"We expect companies to treat employees fairly," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

P&O mass-sacking is illegal, says LBC Legal Hour's Daniel Darnett

"It is only in extreme circumstances that employers need to make extreme decisions to secure the future of their business if all other avenues have failed, including negotiations between employer and employee.

"We don't believe this was the case for P&O staff but we are looking into this very carefully.

"The actions this company took yesterday are deeply disappointing and will be causing deep upset amongst loyal staff."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, speaking to the Conservatives' spring forum in Blackpool, said he reacted with "shock and dismay" at the "insensitive and brutal" decision.

"Sacked by a pre-recorded Zoom meeting with just 30 minutes' notice. No-one should treat employees in that way in the 21st century."

He also noted how P&O had been one of those to accept Government support during the coronavirus pandemic.

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