P&O Ferries fires 800 employees, suspends sailing, says it’s unsustainable

Three ferries P&O, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent dock at the cruise terminal at Dover Port in Kent where the company halted sailing before a “significant announcement” but insisted it “will not be liquidated.”

Gareth Fuller | PA photos | Getty Images

LONDON (Reuters) – British ferry company P&O Ferries on Thursday fired 800 employees and halted sailing with immediate effect, saying the business was “unsustainable” in its current form.

The company told its workers to return to the ports before an “important announcement” earlier Thursday, in a move that is expected to cause severe disruption to passenger and freight travel.

Amid rumors that staff will be replaced by those of a cheaper agency, labor unions have urged staff to stay on board in what could lead to a potential confrontation. The BBC reported that some crew members were already defying orders and refusing to leave their ships in protest.

P&O Ferries, which is said to have nearly 4,000 employees and operates more than 30,000 sailings a year, has struggled to operate amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions that have crippled the travel industry over the past two years.

“As part of the process we are beginning today, we are providing immediate notices of terminations to 800 sailors and will compensate them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages,” a P&O spokesperson said.

The company said it lost 100 million pounds ($131 million) on an annual basis, which was covered by its owner Dubai Ports.

This is not sustainable. Our survival depends on making quick and important changes now.

Trade union ‘deeply troubled’

Britain’s transport union RMT has expressed its displeasure with the sudden announcement, urging the government to step in and protect P&O staff from potential replacement.

“We are deeply disturbed by increasing speculation that the company is today planning to expel hundreds of British seafarers and replace them with foreign labour,” RMT wrote in a press release on its website.

Pictures on Twitter seems to appear Crew replacement coaches and security personnel already present in the British ports of Dover and Hull.

He added: “We have instructed our members to stay on board and demand protection for our members across UK P&O operations and that the Foreign Secretary is stepping in to rescue UK seafarers from the benefits waiting list,” referring to the UK’s unemployment benefits system.

Unions and the government’s opposition Labor Party have accused some companies of trying to “sack and re-hire” employees, a move they see as effectively shifting from permanent workers to weaker contract workers at lower wages.

Earlier on Thursday, Labor’s shadow transport minister, Louise Hay, called on the government to act, stating that “unscrupulous employers cannot be unleashed on separating their workforce into secure jobs and replacing them with agency staff”.

The UK government said it would issue a statement on the matter on Thursday 5pm local time.

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