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Passengers stranded as P&O sacks staff and suspends services

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

P&O Ferries has fired all its ferry crew and left passengers stranded as it struggles to stay afloat.

About 800 seafarers were left in limbo for several hours today after the ferry service suspended all operations ahead of a ‘major announcement’.

P&O told all ships to discharge their passengers and cargo and ‘standby for further instructions’ at about 7.30am. Unions immediately speculated that the ferry company was firing workers – and they were right.

P&O has now issued a statement confirming the job losses. The ferry company said it needs to plug a £100m year-on-year black hole in its finances that wasn’t covered by its parent company DP World, and that the business was “not viable” in its current state. It said “swift and significant changes” were needed straight away.

P&O said affected staff would be served with “enhanced” severance packages, calling it a “necessary decision” to protect its remaining 2,200 staff.

Maritime union Nautilus International claimed P&O were sacking all staff to replace them with cheaper agency crew.

Both Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) are telling union members serving with P&O Ferries to stay onboard their vessels.

P&O is the main ferry operator on the Dover to Calais crossing, and also sails from Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin and Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland.

A statement on P&O Ferries’ website published this afternoon said: “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 [a rival ferry company] check-in booths.”

Mark Dickinson, Nautilus International general secretary, said: “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking the 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 believe it is in our members’ best interests to stay onboard until further notice.”

Nautilus International said P&O’s action today follows several years in which the company attempted to drive down pay, reduce occupational sick pay, and introduce lay-off clauses in its collective bargaining agreement. P&O Ferries also attempted to introduce a ‘no strike clause’.

Karl Turner, Labour MP for East Hull, said in a Tweet that crew on the Pride of Hull were staging a sit-in and refusing to let police onboard. He described the ferry firm’s action as a “deplorable predatory practise”.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has demanded the protection of UK seafarer jobs.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: “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 have instructed our members to remain onboard and are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected and that the secretary of state intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps Tweeted that he was “very concerned about the news”.

What should P&O customers do?

Currently it appears that P&O has not made alternative travel arrangements for its customers with other ferry lines, despite telling customers that it would organise replacement travel. It said passengers should expect disruption for the “next few days”.

One customer told Sky News that on arriving to board a ferry in Larne this morning, he and his family were told to travel to Belfast for a booking with Stena Line Ferries – but when he got there Stena had no knowledge of any arrangement.

Michael Foote, editor-in-chief of travel insurance comparison site Quotegoat, said: “If you’ve got tickets booked with P&O Ferries and they don’t offer you alternative transport, it’s a good idea to contact your travel insurance company. Not all policies will cover you, but it’s worth reaching out.

“If you paid by debit card, you may be able to make a claim through your Mastercard and Visa Chargeback scheme. If you paid with a credit card, you may also be able to claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. You’ll need to have spent more than £100 on your tickets.

“If you booked with a tour operator and they are a member of ABTA, your money should be protected.”