P&O Ferries: Unions threaten legal action over ‘shameful’ sacking of 800 staff

P&O Ferries has suspended its sailings after making all UK seafaring employees redundant with immediate effect.

The company says it’s losing £100m a year. “In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” a spokesperson said.

“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.”

Police have intervened after sacked P&O workers blocked a road leading to the Port of Dover in response to the news.

Dozens of employees, who say they were not consulted and lost their jobs on Thursday, stood on the road holding banners and flags saying “Stop the P&O jobs carve-up”.

Buses carrying agency workers hired to replace them appeared to arrive at the Kent port.

Unions have told members to stage sit-ins onboard P&O vessels.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “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.”

Mark Dickinson, general secretary of maritime union Nautilus International, said: “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.”

See below for what was our live coverage.

Key points

11:59 , Helen Coffey

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog, where we’ll be posting all the latest P&O Ferries updates throughout the day.

Union calls for sit-in

12:00 , Simon Calder

Responding to reports about the future of P&O and speculation that hundreds of UK seafarers employed by the company could be replaced by foreign labour RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch 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.”

Speculation grows that hundreds of UK staff to lose jobs

12:09 , Helen Coffey

Reports are emerging that hundreds of UK P&O Ferries staff could lose their jobs as the company gears up for a “major” announcement later today.

Rumours in the industry suggest that the ferry line, which is owned by the Dubai-based company DP World, may be making large-scale redundancies and replacing crew with seafarers recruited from abroad.

ITV’s Shehab Khan tweeted: “Understand that all sailing staff at P&O Ferries have been made redundant with immediate effect. The company will use an agency to keep their ferries running and current staff will be able to apply to the agency for work.”

P&O ferries has denied reports that it is going into liquidation, simply stating: “We have asked all ships to come alongside, in preparation for a company announcement.

“Until then, services from P&O will not be running and we are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”

Truck chaos in Dover and Calais

12:18 , Helen Coffey

Truck drivers are experiencing long queues as P&O Ferries suspends sailings ahead of its “major” announcement.

One driver in Calais due to return to the UK said he had been waiting for a ferry since 6am.

“More than anything I'm frustrated at the fact nobody from P&O was there to help and advise ... I've never had such shoddy service from anybody,” he told news agency PA.

The driver had to rebook with DFDS, saying: “I've had to exit the port and go through the entire process again, not to mention paying for another ticket at a higher price with them.”

“I would have appreciated somebody at least telling us what to do”, he added.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Channel, The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder reported witnessing “truck chaos” at Dover.

 (Simon Calder)
(Simon Calder)

Grant Shapps ‘concerned’ by P&O Ferries suspending sailings

12:27 , Helen Coffey

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons he is “concerned” by the situation regarding P&O Ferries.

He said: “I understand they have temporarily paused their operations and that’s causing disruption at the short straits – Calais-Dover – as well as some other ports.

“I’m working with the Kent Resilience Forum and I’ve just instructed them to become intricately involved, and other partners in this, and we’ll be taking steps later today – including ensuring that my officials will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers.”

‘Damning, outrageous move from P&O,’ says Scottish trade union centre

12:50 , Helen Coffey

In response to reports that all UK P&O Ferries sailing staff will be made redundant, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Roz Foyer said: “This is a damning, outrageous move from P&O and we offer our full support to the RMT union and all their members.

”We cannot - and will not - permit hundreds of workers to be sacked on the spot to be replaced by cheaper labour whilst P&O scramble to remain viable.

“We need to see an urgent statement from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government on how they intend to halt this scandalous misuse of employer power.”

Staff made redundant from today, says P&O Ferries employee

12:53 , Helen Coffey

A P&O Ferries crew member, who wished to remain anonymous, has said sailing staff have lost their jobs, effective immediately.

He told KentOnline: “As of effect from today all our contracts have been terminated and we've all been made redundant.”

Labour MP Karl Turner tweeted a photograph of a coach which he stated contained “new foreign crew waiting to board the Pride of Hull” at King George Dock, Hull.

RMT members are “sitting in onboard the vessel”, so the new crew “will not be boarding her”, he wrote.

He added: “We understand that both current officers and ratings are to be sacked.”

Pride of Hull ‘will refuse to allow the police to board the vessel'

13:01 , Helen Coffey

There are reports that the captain of P&O Ferries ship the Pride of Hull will refuse to allow the police to board if they attempt to do so.

Labour MP Karl Turner posted on social media: “I’m hearing that the captain of the Pride of Hull will refuse to allow the police to board the vessel if @POferries ask them to do so.

“The official sit in of the ship is supported by both @nautilusint members (officers) and @RMTunion members.”

Maritime union tells members to ‘stay onboard’ P&O ships 'until further notice’

13:06 , Helen Coffey

Mark Dickinson, general secretary of maritime union Nautilus International, 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 millions of pounds of British taxpayers' 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.”

P&O Ferries confirms it is axing 800 staff

13:22 , Simon Calder

After hours of rumour, speculation and – at the ports – some chaos, P&O Ferries has issued a statement about the sudden sacking of 800 seafarers.

A spokesperson for the ferry firm said: “P&O Ferries plays a critical role in keeping trade flowing, supply chains moving, and connecting families and friends across the North and Irish seas and the English Channel. We have been at the heart of this service for years and we are committed to serving these vital routes.

“However, in its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m 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.

“In making this tough decision, we are securing the future viability of our business which employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK. And we are ensuring that we can continue serving our customers in a way that they have demanded from us for many years.”

P&O Ferries sailings suspended for ‘next few days'

13:28 , Helen Coffey

P&O Ferries has said all sailings will be suspended “for the next few days” following confirmation that UK seafaring staff will be made redundant.

The company posted on Twitter: “P&O Ferries services are unable to run for the next few days.

“We are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”

Ministers and officials speaking to P&O Ferries ‘later today'

13:49 , Helen Coffey

Responding to P&O Ferries suspending its sailings, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: “The DfT is working with the Kent Resilience Forum and all local partners to ensure the free flow of traffic in Kent.

”There are other operators running services on cross Channel routes, so passengers and goods can continue to travel.

“Ministers and officials will be speaking with P&O Ferries later today to understand more about the changes and the impact on staff and passengers.”

Legal battle ‘inevitable’, say experts

14:08 , Helen Coffey

If P&O Ferries seafaring workers are dismissed and replaced by agency staff, a legal battle will be “inevitable”, experts have warned.

Joseph Lappin, head of employment at UK law firm Stewarts, said: “The Nautilus International union believes that all crew members will be dismissed with immediate effect and has already declared that it will ‘act in defence of’ its members.

“If all crew members are dismissed and replaced with agency workers, a legal battle is inevitable.

“It remains to be seen whether P&O can justify the dismissals. Why now and why so suddenly? Based on the limited information available to us, it looks like the dismissals will be both substantively and procedurally unfair, giving rise to claims of unfair dismissal.

“However, if P&O can demonstrate that the sudden dismissals are necessary and crucial to the survival of the business, perhaps to deal with the pressures imposed on the company by Brexit, rising energy costs and the pandemic, an Employment Tribunal might find that P&O’s conduct was reasonable.”

Crew informed of job losses over Microsoft Teams

14:20 , Simon Calder

Shortly before noon, P&O Ferries crew were told via a Microsoft Teams meeting that they were no longer employed. Instead, they would be replaced by agency staff on inferior contracts.

Some were told they could apply for positions through these agencies.

Many of the seafarers are members of the RMT union, which has called on them to stage a sit-in on board the ferries.

The BBC obtained footage of the meeting in which staff were informed they had lost their jobs.

‘This appalling employment transaction cannot be completed' says top Tory MP

14:36 , Simon Calder

The senior Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, has deplored the action of P&O Ferries in sacking 800 seafarers – who are set to be replaced by agency staff on inferior contracts.

Mr Merriman, who represents the constituency of Bexhill & Battle, along the south coast, called the move “deeply concerning”.

He said: “The government must do everything it can to ensure that this appalling employment transaction cannot be completed.

“Concern remains as to whether this is lawful. Firing loyal staff and replacing them with cheaper labour sourced from elsewhere is not a model that the public will wear.

“That model was not acceptable when our national flag carrier airline attempted to adopt it, and it is not acceptable now. The government should make it clear that it will not condone this behaviour.

“P&O’s parent company, DP World, must understand that British customers won’t do business with companies that treat their staff with contempt.”

Sacked P&O workers clash with motorists

14:50 , Lucy Thackray

Fired P&O Ferries workers in Dover have clashed with motorists after blocking a road close to the port.

Dozens of employees who lost their jobs stood on the road with banners and flags saying “Stop the P&O Jobs carve up”.

A lorry driver trying to enter the port began shouting and beeping at those in the road, before being told, “We’re not moving”.

One of the protesters, who had worked for the company for decades, told the PA news agency: “I refuse to move from this road. All this service for nothing.

“The police will have to take me away.”

‘They were told they had five minutes to get their stuff and get off the ships’ - mother of fired worker

14:59 , Lucy Thackray

One woman at the Port of Dover, who does not want to be named, has a husband and son who lost their jobs overnight.

She said: "When P&O suspended sailings this morning, crews were waiting on the ships with no idea what was happening - even the captains didn’t know.

"Then pictures emerged of three coach loads of foreign workers waiting at ports to take their jobs. They were already wearing P&O uniforms - yet the staff still hadn’t been told they were being let go.

"They were told they had five minutes to get their stuff and get off the ships. These guys are week on week off workers who have called these ships home for half of the year every year.

"They have personal effects in lockers which they can’t get to - clothes, bedding, photographs and in some cases financial documents which will be taken out and thrown.

"My son is an apprentice. With 350 people competing for jobs at sea, they’re unlikely to be able to find a ferry company to take them on to finish their apprenticeships. Their coursework is on the ships waiting to be thrown out. It’s highly immoral and another insult from P&O to East Kent."

It is understood security teams were on-hand as staff left their posts - with replacement teams of agency workers waiting for them on the dockside.

One source said,"16 handcuff-trained security people" were involved. P&O Ferries employs around 4,000 staff nationwide.

Additional reporting by agencies.

‘We already have to put up with all these migrants coming in’ - Dover local

15:05 , Simon Calder

“There’s going to be uproar in Dover,” said one resident, Maddie Heley, when The Independent told her about P&O Ferries’ sudden sacking of 800 seafarers – who are set to be replaced by agency staff on inferior contracts.

“We already have to put up with all these migrants coming in, and now they’re going to be employing foreign workers on the ferries.

“It [P&O Ferries] must be the biggest employer in town.”

Dover, England (Simon Calder)
Dover, England (Simon Calder)

Lib Dems call for ‘a more responsible owner’ for P&O Ferries

15:16 , Simon Calder

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Sarah Olney MP, has described the decision by P&O Ferries to sack 800 seafarers as “an attack on workers” and “an absolute outrage”.

“This is simply not an acceptable way to treat employees,” she said.

“The government must step in urgently to help reduce tensions and bring people back to the table.

“If the current owners cannot manage this company properly then the government needs to consider how a more responsible owner can be brought in.

“Clearly the Conservatives also need to tighten up rules about how registered ships treat workers to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Pride of Hull captain has enough supplies to stay sealed in ferry “as long as it takes”

15:27 , Lucy Thackray

The captain of a giant P&O ferry was hailed a hero today for drawing up his gangplanks and refusing to allow police or new crewmen to board his vessel in the port of Hull.

The captain of the Pride of Hull, understood to be Eugene Fabier, sealed himself and his crew inside the ferry just hours after P&0 announced mass redundancies.

The ship normally carries a crew of 141 people aboard and is one of the biggest ferries in Europe - makes regular crossings between Hull and the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Hull’s Labour MP Karl Turner said the captain had taken matters into his own hands and was now operating under maritime law to prevent anyone coming aboard.

He added that those on the ship had enough food supplies to last “as long as it takes” to resolve the dispute.

He said: “I’m told by Gaz Jackson, who is the RMT official who is sitting in on the ship, he’s effectively locked in with the ship and the crew.

“He’s saying the captain is refusing to allow the police to enter the ship. Members have said to me that the vessel has got enough supplies to feed the crew for as long as it takes.

“As far as I understand in maritime law, even though that vessel is in a port, that captain is still entitled under maritime law to refuse any person onto his vessel.”

Mr Turner said added that staff on the ship had been treated with “utter contempt” by P&O, which is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.

He said: “They’re treating British ratings with utter contempt, and they’re treating the British government with utter contempt as well.”

Earlier today, P&O released a statement saying they would be making a “major company announcement” to ensure the long term viability of their operations.

Their statement read: “To facilitate this announcement all our vessels have been asked to discharge their passengers and cargo and standby for further instructions.

“This means we’re expecting all our ports to experience serious disruption today, so please bear with us and we will give further information in an all-colleague announcement later today.”

Reporting by agencies.

Security guards at Dover ‘seeking to board ships with handcuffs'

15:47 , Helen Coffey

Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are receiving reports that security guards at Dover are seeking to board ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour.

“We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the Government to take action to stop what is fast turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.”

Labour MP Karl Turner posted a photograph on social media showing the captain of Pride of Hull addressing workers on the ship.

Mr Turner wrote: “They have support right across the city of Hull and the rest of the country, and are determined to stay on board for as long as it takes.”

Reporting by agencies

Government in ‘urgent’ talks with P&O Ferries


Downing Street said the Government was not given any advance notice by P&O of the company's plans.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said officials were in “urgent” talks to find out what the company's plans were.

“We weren't given any notice to this. We are speaking to the company to understand what approach it is taking,” the spokesman said.

“We do not agree with the practice of fire and rehire and would be dismayed if this is the outcome they were seeking to achieve.”

The spokesman said he did not believe the issue was discussed when Boris Johnson was in the UAE on Wednesday, even though the company is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.

Reporting by agencies

P&O workers block road to Port of Dover in jobs protest

16:31 , Ted Hennessey

Police have intervened after P&O workers blocked a road leading to the Port of Dover.

Dozens of employees who lost their jobs on Thursday stood on the road holding banners and flags saying “Stop the P&O jobs carve up”.

It came after buses carrying agency workers hired to replace them appeared to arrive at the Kent port.

A lorry driver trying to enter the port began shouting and beeping at those in the road, before being told “We’re not moving”.

Read the full story:

P&O workers block road to Port of Dover in jobs protest

Private security ‘intimidate workers' with ‘handcuffs, tasers and balaclavas’

16:39 , Helen Coffey

According to reports, private security are using handcuffs, tasers and balaclavas to allegedly “intimidate” fired P&O Ferries workers who are staging sit-ins onboard the company’s ships.

Trade unionist Susan Fitzgerald tweeted: “At Larne harbour - major warning here for the Labour movement, private security with handcuffs, tasers and balaclavas used to intimidate workers off this ship.

“RMT protest at the harbour tomorrow between 12-3, details to follow - try be there and bring others.”

‘In the strongest possible terms we condemn P&O,’ says International Transport Workers’ Federation

16:50 , Helen Coffey

Global and European maritime unions have expressed anger at the news that P&O Ferries will move to sack its UK based seafaring workforce and outsource their jobs to non-union, agency workers.

Affiliates of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) were informed that P&O Ferries had paused services “in preparation for a company announcement” earlier today. By afternoon the company had announced to media that 800 staff that work on its vessels with immediate effect.

“The news today is shocking. In the strongest possible terms we condemn P&O. We will not accept its move to axe the jobs of its loyal seafaring workforce with no notice. We all must question how a company can literally sack its entire workforce on less than 24 hours’ notice,” said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton.

“Our unions are awaiting further information from P&O and DP World – its major shareholder – but the ITF and ETF stand ready to mobilise support to defend these workers’ jobs. We’re deeply concerned at reports that busloads of non-union crew and ‘handcuff trained’ security are sitting in Dover and Hull, waiting to remove and replace the British-based seafarers.”

Pride of Hull crew leave ship after stand-off

17:31 , Helen Coffey

The crew of the Pride of Hull are leaving the ship after a standoff with P&O came to an end.

RMT organiser for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Gaz Jackson said the crew were “absolutely devastated” and described P&O’s actions as “unacceptable” and “unforgivable”.

He told reporters at King George Dock in Hull: “I got a phone call at 8am saying something was going to happen at P&O, I got on board and spoke to the captain and we said we’ve got to lift the gangway until we’ve got an agreement.

“At 11am ratings and officers were informed there was going to be a pre-recorded Zoom meeting. After that two to three-minute call all the crew were made redundant.”

Mr Jackson praised the captain for his “brave decision” to lift the gangway “for the safety of the crew”, saying security guards were “going to pull us off if we weren’t going to get off”. He said negotiations had come to an end when the company agreed to provide paperwork requested by the union.

Reporting by agencies

P&O crew ‘absolutely devastated’: ‘I’ve seen grown men crying'

17:41 , Helen Coffey

P&O crew, sacked today without warning, are “absolutely devastated” according to one union member.

RMT organiser for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Gaz Jackson said: “I’ve seen grown men crying on there because they don’t know where they’re going to go from today.”

He said it is “very likely” the new crew “won’t be British seafarers”.

Mr Jackson said the union would hold demonstrations at P&O ports and had a “legal injunction against the company”.

Additional reporting by agencies

Government found out about P&O mass sacking on Wednesday night


The Government first found out about P&O's decision to fire its staff on Wednesday night, a minister said.

Labour MP Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) said: “P&O have clearly been working on this for some time. Can the minister tell us when they first informed the Government of their intentions?”

Transport minister Robert Courts replied: “He is probably right, that P&O have been considering this for some time. The Government was first informed of this during yesterday evening.”

Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell warned that seafarers are “safety critical workers working in a safety critical industry”, and called on the Government to ensure that “no ship sails with agency staff” because of the safety risk.

Reporting by agencies

Transport minister calls P&O’s actions ‘unacceptable'


The Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, said P&O has put the economy at risk, while a transport minister said the company's actions were “unacceptable”.

The former told the Commons: “The way in which P&O Ferries and DP World have acted is shabby, disgraceful and utterly unacceptable. They have mistreated 600 loyal workers in Dover, and in addition to this they have brought traffic disruption and put at risk the economy and the trade routes through it.”

Transport minister Robert Courts said constituents will be “anguished, hurt, distraught at the news that they have been given today”.

He added: “She asks me do I agree that the way P&O have behaved is unacceptable. Yes, it's unacceptable.”

Reporting by agencies

Unions threaten legal action over ‘shameful’ sacking of P&O workers

18:23 , Alan Jones

Unions were threatening legal action against P&O on Thursday after the ferry giant sacked 800 seafarers and replaced them with cheaper agency workers.

The move sparked outrage from politicians and workers, many of whom refused to leave ships, leading to the incredible scene of security guards with handcuffs being deployed to remove them.

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.

Read the full story:

Unions threaten legal action over ‘shameful’ sacking of P&O workers

MP calls for staff to be reinstated

19:20 , Jane Dalton

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke called for P&O to reinstate staff, saying it was an “utterly appalling” decision.

She told BBC Southeast she was heartbroken for everyone who had put their heart and soul to support the company through the pandemic.

“P&O Ferries and their owners, DP World, think they can behave in a way that’s completely unacceptable...

“I don’t accept their argument they need to do this to safeguard the future of the ferry.”

She said the company should have talked to her and the unions.

“The government is absoutely clear it’s no way for a company to behave and it’s absolutely clear they should rethink and reinstate those jobs.”

She said when she spoke to the chief executive of the company, she left him in no doubt at her disgust at how they were behaving.

Sackings ‘beggar belief’, says employment lawyer

19:33 , Jane Dalton

An employment lawyer said the sacking of 800 people “beggared belief”.

Rustom Tata told BBC Southeast: “It seems to drive a coach and horses through normal industrial employment relations practice - what would be recognised as relatively straightforward ordinary practice.

“Every employer, I’d suggest, knows that if they’re going to make staff redundant, there’s a process that has to be gone through which includes a degree of consultation.”

Workforce betrayed, says Starmer

19:44 , Jane Dalton

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the treatment of the 800 seafarers was “disgusting”.

“It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting,” he told BBC Radio Humberside.

“This is a company that had furlough during the Covid crisis. It is absolutely disgusting what they are trying to do. They mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.

“I just wish the government had done what we said and strengthened employment rights so they couldn’t do this kind of thing.”

Northern Ireland could suffer shortages, says minister

20:10 , Jane Dalton

Politicians in Northern Ireland, where P&O operates from the port of Larne, have warned P&O’s actions could cause supply shortages for firms and supermarkets there, as well as exporters.

And they called for the UK government to intervene to ensure the “vital” Larne-to-Cairnryan service continues.

DUP representatives said that a conversation with the chief executive of P&O had assured them that there would be no redundancies at Larne Port as a result of the action taken by the company.

MLA Gordon Lyons, the Northern Ireland economy minister, said the decision would affect the wider Northern Ireland economy.

“The company have informed us that it will be another week before ships can operate from Larne Port,” he said.

“Whilst customers have been directed to Belfast Port in the short-term, they will not have the capacity to ramp up operations in a sufficient manner to accommodate demand.

“With over half of all our freight moving through Larne Port, this announcement will also cause supply problems for companies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as those firms based here who sell to GB.”