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P&O sackings: Could you lose your job at a moment’s notice too?

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The ferry firm has admitted it broke the law when it sacked 800 staff without notice or consulting unions last week.

Events at the ferry firm have cast fear across the UK’s workforce, with employees questioning whether it’s legal to make staff redundant with zero notice.

The good news is, P&O’s mass sackings are illegal and only the most nefarious of firms would act this way.

Your redundancy rights

Redundancy is a type of dismissal from a job when a role is no longer needed. In theory, your company can’t make you redundant if your job still exists.

In the case of P&O, it’s clear the jobs still exist because the company plans to continue running ferry services staffed by cheaper agency staff.

Before your employer selects anyone for redundancy, by law it must follow a consultation and selection process. Anyone being selected for redundancy must be chosen fairly – unfair reasons include gender, sexual orientation, age, and pregnancy.

Everyone being made redundant is entitled to a consultation with their employer – something P&O clearly failed to do. Where there are 20 or more employees at a company, the employer is required to consult with the recognised trade union. But P&O failed to consult with maritime unions such as Nautilus International or the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).

Your employer also needs to give you notice if it plans to make you redundant. The notice period depends on how long you have worked for the company.

You’re entitled to at least one week’s notice if you have been employed between one month and two years; one week’s notice for each year of employment if you’ve been there between two and 12 years; and 12 weeks’ notice if you’ve worked for your employer for 12 years or more.

Anyone who’s worked for the same employer for two years or more will be entitled to redundancy pay. The statutory minimum depends on your age and length of service, and is linked to your salary. However, salary calculations are linked to a cap of £544 a week, while the maximum statutory redundancy pay you can get is £16,320.

Workers under 22 will get half a week’s pay for each full year worked; 22 to 40-year-olds get a week’s pay, and those aged 41 or over get one-and-a-half week’s pay for each full year worked.

Many employers pay more than the statutory minimum. Redundancy pay is free of tax and National Insurance contributions up to £30,000.

If your employer has gone bust, you can normally claim redundancy pay from the government via the Insolvency Service.

You can read more about redundancy rights in this article.

What happened at P&O?

P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite faced a grilling from MPs today and was forced to admit that his decision to sack 800 seafarers last week without consulting the unions broke the law.

In a shocking admission, Hebblethwaite told MPs at a joint hearing of the transport and business committee that there was “absolutely no doubt” that under UK employment law the firm was required to consult unions before making 800 positions redundant, and admitted that unions wouldn’t have accepted P&O’s job slashing plans.

He said his firm “chose not to consult” but would “compensate everybody in full for that.”

P&O staff who have lost their jobs have been replaced with agency staff paid as little as £1.80 an hour, a move which insiders say will cut P&O’s wage bill in half. From 1 April, the UK minimum wage for people aged 23 and over will be £9.50.

The job cuts have caused chaos for the ferry firm’s customers, with sailings suspended.

Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: “In light of evidence given today by lawyers to MPs, that there have been multiple breaches of the law and the admission of the P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite, that the company not only broke the law but would do it again, we are calling for the government to issue an immediate injunction to prevent the ships sailing and reinstate the sacked workers.

“This should include the government seizing control of the ships if necessary. We are also calling for the immediate disqualification of Peter Hebblethwaite as a director after he admitted the company broke the law and would do it again.”