Passenger confusion

P&O sacks all crew after ferries ordered back to port

P&O
P&O operates the Cairnryan to Larne route (pic: P&O Ferries)

UPDATE 18 March: P&O Ferries was today accused of a “callous attack on working people” after sacking all 800 crew members with immediate effect and replacing them with agency staff.

The company said the “tough decision” was made to secure the future of the business and said its services will be suspended for a few days, with customers advised to use other operators.

P&O said its survival was dependent on making significant changes. “In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” it said. “We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

But there was an angry reaction from staff, union representatives and politicians. Private security officers were sent onto one ship docked at Larne Harbour in Northern Ireland, to remove staff on board, according to the RMT union.

It said it has instructed members to stay on board their vessels once they have docked or risk being “locked out” of their jobs.

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“We are digging in for the long-haul. We are determined to fight,” RMT spokesperson Geoff Martin said.

In addition to taking part in demonstrations on Friday, both the RMT union and Nautilus are seeking legal advice on the dismissal.

Beth Hale, partner at employment law firm CM Murray, said P&O Ferries may well have breached employment law.

She said that it should have consulted with unions and staff about potential dismissals and notified the government that hundreds of jobs were at risk.

Action spread beyond the crew as the captain of one ferry was drew up his gangplanks and refused to allow police or new crewmen to board his vessel. 

Dutchman Eugene Favier sealed himself and his crew inside the ferry just hours after P&0 announced the redundancies.

It is understood that he left his ship and went to speak to P&O officials onshore about the ongoing stand-off on the Pride of Hull. 

Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said:“This scandalous action is a betrayal of the workers that kept this country stocked throughout the pandemic.

“Unscrupulous employers cannot be given free rein to sack their workforce in secure jobs and replace with agency staff.

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“The Conservative government must not give the green light to this appalling practice, and must act to secure the livelihoods of these workers.

“There are images circulating of what we are told are handcuff trained security, some wearing balaclavas marching British crew off their ships.

“This is not a corporate restructure, it is not the way to go about business. It is beneath contempt – the action of thugs.

“It is quite simply a scandal that this overseas-owned company – which received millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, have upended the lives of 800 British workers overnight

“All while the profits of their owners – DP World – soared by 52% in the first half of 2021. We need a clear unequivocal statement from the government.” (full statement by Louise Haigh to the House of commons published below).

The company had earlier fuelled speculation about its operations after sending all its ferries back to port and disembarking confused passengers ahead of a “major announcement”.

The company said its decision would “secure the long-term viability” of the firm and stated that it was not going into liquidation.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons he was concerned by the situation and DUP MP Jim Shannon claimed that nearly half of the firm is owned by a Russian business. 

“I understand that 40% of the holdings of P&O Ferries is held by a Russian company,” he said. 

P&O Ferries is part of Dubai-based logistics giant DP World and operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

In an internal company statement, the ferry operator said that all its vessels had been asked to discharge their passengers and cargo and stand by for further instructions.

P&O carried more than 10 million passengers a year before the pandemic and about 15% of all freight cargo in and out of the UK.

Colin Mathieson, spokesperson for Advice Direct Scotland, said: “The recent announcements about redundancies and disruption to journeys on P&O Ferries will have left staff and customers with questions about what this means for them.

“The redundancy process being used by P&O is being disputed by many of the workers who were terminated, with trade unions involved.

“Regulations on redundancy state that employees must be consulted during the process.“Advice Direct Scotland has put together a guide to redundancy and how it works in practical terms, which is available at

advice.scot/po-ferries-redundancy-announcement-employment-rights.

“Additionally, a number of ferry services have been cancelled, causing major disruption at multiple ports around the UK.

“It is important people know what their rights are, either as a consumer or in relation to redundancy.

“Customers facing delays or cancellations may be entitled to compensation, a replacement journey if available or a full refund.

“We would advise them to raise an initial complaint with the operator and follow the procedure fully. More information is available at

consumeradvice.scot/po-ferry-disruptions-cancellations-your-consumer-rights.”

Full statement from Louise Haigh, Labour MP, in the House of Commons

Thank you Mr Speaker

The action taken by P&O Ferries today is a national scandal. It is a betrayal of the workers that kept this country stocked throughout the pandemic.

I have heard directly from the crew throughout the day – their lives upended. The jobs they depended on, scrapped. Workers are now left wondering how on earth they will put food on their family’s table, and the management did not even have the decency to tell them face-to-face.

They were told this life-changing news on a pre-recorded video.

There are images circulating of what we are told are handcuff trained security, some wearing balaclavas marching British crew off their ships.

This is not a corporate restructure, it is not the way to go about business. It is beneath contempt – the action of thugs.

It is quite simply a scandal that this overseas-owned company – which received millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers money in the pandemic, without consultation and without notice, have upended the lives of 800 British workers overnight.

All while the profits of their owners – DP World – soared by 52% in the first half of 2021. We need a clear unequivocal statement from the government.

No ifs, no buts – an overseas conglomerate cannot be given free rein to sack workers in secure jobs here in Britain at the click of a button, and replace them with agency staff.

The government must not give the green light to this appalling practice, and must act now to secure the livelihoods of these workers.

Mr speaker this cannot stand.  So, will the Minister review any and every contract and license Government has with P&O or DPW to maximise leverage, to force them to do the right thing?

Will he convene urgent talks with P&O and the unions to look immediately at what steps can be taken to safeguard these jobs.

Given neither the workers, their union, nor the secretary of state received notification, this action is clearly illegal.

Will the Minister therefore act immediately and ensure all those party to this decision are punished? 

And will he outline to what extent other operators will be able to cover this unacceptable disruption?  It is impossible to conceive that we have sufficient capacity to cover a loss of 10 days.

Finally, will he be clawing back every single penny of the government funding given to them over the course of the pandemic?

But, Mr Speaker, this must be set within a context – for far too long Ministers have sat on their hands and chosen to side with bad bosses by failing to take action to outlaw fire and rehire.

This is the cruel consequence of a decade of attacks on workers’ rights.

No more excuses. It’s time for ministers to keep the promises they have made and deliver for workers’ rights – which means outlawing fire and rehire without delay.

Finally, Mr Speaker, we are an island nation. British seafaring has been and is the envy of the world. We are rightly proud of the British sailors, ratings, and officers who make our fleet and whose name is known across the globe. 

This is a straightforward assault on British seafaring. It cannot be allowed to stand.

The government must stand up and speak out for these proud workers and act now to protect their livelihoods



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