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P&O Ferries sacks 800 workers but crew refuse to leave ships

By Josh Martin | BBC News |

P&O Ferries has sacked 800 staff immediately, but some crew are defying orders and refusing to leave their ships in protest.

Workers were told the news on a video call. The firm said it was a “tough” decision but it would “not be a viable business” without the changes.

Union RMT said crewmembers were being replaced with cheaper overseas workers.

P&O said its services would not operate for the “next few days”, with passengers told to use other companies.

Private security officers have been sent onto one ship docked at Larne Harbour in Northern Ireland to remove staff on board, according to the RMT.

Gary Jackson, a full time officer and RMT union member onboard the Pride of Hull, said crew docked in Hull were informed they had lost their jobs through a pre-recorded message at 11am and had not received anything in writing from the company.

“We’ve still not received any detail further on what they will offer. We can see from the ship two vans, one with agency staff and the other with what we believe are security staff to remove us… and that’s why the captain here lifted the gangway”.

East Hull Labour MP Karl Turner said “new foreign crew [are] waiting to board the Pride of Hull” while the current crew onboard have begun a “sit-in”.

However, some contractors are stuck onboard the vessel and not allowed to leave.

Keith Davis was on the Pride of Hull to fix a piece of kitchen equipment, and said he and eight fellow contractors were now stuck on board after the captain lifted the gangway.

“We’re being held against our will, I’m not trying to be dramatic, but we can’t get off the ship,” Mr Davis said.

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

James Sloth, who has worked for P&O Ferries in Dover for around four years, said he felt abandoned by the company after all he received “was a three minute pre-recorded message saying we are out of a job. Nothing else.”

“It was a complete surprise. I would have understood if it was at the height of Covid, but now we’re seeing the end of travel restrictions and the start of summer bookings. So this has come completely out of the blue,” Mr Sloth said.

Darren Procter from the RMT said staff were given no warning.

“We were informed that there were coaches full of individuals looking to replace the staff with no consultation with the staff or unions. We’ve seen minibuses full of workers and security staff who have had handcuff training. This is how they plan to treat staff who show resistance.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that he was “concerned” about the news and would be speaking to the company.

P&O said its survival was dependent on “making swift and significant changes now”.

“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.”

P&O Ferries services scheduled for Monday include 14 between Dover and Calais, three between Liverpool and Dublin and seven between Larne in County Antrim and Cairnryan in Dumfries and Galloway.

The cross-Channel operator has said on Twitter that sailings between Dover and Calais scheduled for today will no longer run, and customers with tickets were instructed to sail with rival ferry company DFDS.

P&O Ferries is one of the UK’s leading ferry companies, carrying more than 10 million passengers a year before the pandemic and about 15% of all freight cargo in and out of the UK.

However, like many transport operators it saw demand slump in the pandemic, forcing it to announce 1,110 job cuts.

P&O Ferries claimed almost £15m in government grants in 2020, which included furlough payments for its employees.

P&O is owned by DP World, the multi-national ports and logistics company based in Dubai. It paid a £270m dividend to shareholders in 2020.

‘Frustrating’
Lauren Shaw and her husband told the BBC they were booked with P&O to travel on a ferry from Cairnryan to Larne at 16:00 this afternoon. “We had a phone call at 10am to tell us there would be no sailings today and that they hadn’t been told a reason why,” she said.

With no further information, the couple have started travelling to the port because they live four hours away – and are hoping for an update soon.

“They said that if we get to the port, they may be able to put us on Stena Line, but it’s not guaranteed,” Lauren added. “It’s really frustrating.”

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