P&O Ferries: Risky Business
This week P&O’s Spirit of Britain was cleared to sail again after a month of controversy and disruption. Last month, the company announced it was suspending all its vessels and sacking 800 members of staff—the result of unsustainable financial losses. P&O stated that the decisions were necessary in order to save the business, but the actions of the leading UK ferry operator have been widely deplored.
At a Commons committee meeting at the end of March, MPs condemned the recent redundancies. Criticism stemmed from the company’s failure to consult workers and unions before making their decision: a move which breaches employment law. Employment lawyers say the company could face claims for unfair dismissal. Criminal investigations are already underway.
How P&O Ferries moves forward from this has been dubbed a purely commercial decision. The company has now implemented its plan to replace the 800 crew members with cheaper workers sourced through agencies. Nautilus International—a trade union representing employee seafarers—says this is a betrayal of workers’ rights.
P&O Ferries had already drawn threats of industrial action from the union in 2021 when it replaced over 70 officers with lower-paid agency staff. Now, in an identical move on a larger scale, unions say this must become a turning point.
The UK’s Insolvency Service has commenced formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the recent redundancies. P&O has insisted it is not going into liquidation, but the future of the cross-Channel ferry operator is still uncertain.
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