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Ro-ro operator P&O Ferries has suspended all its operations “for the next few days” and confirmed that 800 seafarers have been issued with “immediate severance notices”, while customers have been advised to use other services.
Earlier today, the company instructed its vessels to discharge passengers and freight and remain in port pending a major announcement, and later said sailings would not operate for “the next few days”.
The DP World-owned company, which operates cross-Channel, North Sea-Europe and UK-Ireland services, said it had “been forced to take such drastic action due to mounting financial losses”.
It said: “In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m ($131m) 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.”
Its website added: “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.”
Unions Nautilus International and the RMT claim the company is set to replace its UK workforce with cheaper foreign labour – in spring 2020, P&O Ferries warned that UK jobs, some 1,100, were at risk.
In March last year, the RMT warned that the entrance of Irish Ferries on the cross-Channel route posed a threat to the “employment of our members at both P&O Ferries and DFDS Ferries, adding: “Irish Ferries is a well known operator with a proven reputation for exploiting overseas seafarers.”
Nonetheless, the workers’ representatives appear to have been taken by surprise by today’s news which was given to staff via a recorded video. Unions instructed members to remain onboard vessels, but with no mandate for strike action as they haven’t had a chance to hold a ballot.
But they were scathing in their condemnation of the development.
Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking crew across its entire UK fleet is a betrayal of British workers. It is nothing short of scandalous, given that this Dubai-owned company received British taxpayer’s money during the pandemic.
‘There was no consultation and no notice given by P&O. Be assured the full resources of Nautilus International stand ready to act in defence of our members. We have instructed them to stay onboard until further notice.”
The RMT has also instructed its members to stay on their vessels. General secretary Mick Lynch added: “We are deeply disturbed by growing speculation that the company are today planning to sack hundreds of UK seafarers and replace them with foreign labour.
“We are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected and that the secretary of state [Grant Shapps] intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”
In response to a question in the House of Commons from shadow transport minister Mike Kane, Mr Shapps said his officials were in “urgent discussions” with P&O Ferries.
About 14 services between Dover and Calais have been cancelled – where P&O has a capacity-sharing agreement with DFDS – and another three between Liverpool and Dublin, Carinryan to Belfast and Hull to Rotterdam.