P&O Ferries: Did they break the law? What happened to 800 sacked staff? Will Boris Johnson step in? Your questions answered

It has been a week since P&O dramatically fired 800 seafarers in a move that shocked people worldwide. But did they break the law? What has happened to the staff? Will you still be able to travel with P&O?

On March 17, P&O suspended all services and told crews to moor up all vessels. Within a few hours, it was revealed that 800 seafarers had been fired as P&O2, owned by Dubai-based DP World, blamed a loss of earnings due to lockdown.

The alert was flagged on INRIX, the traffic and travel monitoring programme as an “operational incident”. It read: “Service suspended on P and O Ferries between Dover and Calais, between Cairnryan and Larne, between Hull and Rotterdam and between Liverpool and Dublin due to operational incident.”

READ MORE:Dover ‘united in support’ as businesses rally to help sacked seafarers

Footage has also emerged of a pre-recorded message video message informing P&O staff that they were being fired. In it, a senior boss explains that the job losses are necessary to keep P&O Ferries afloat after losses of £100 million each year over the past two years.

But what are the latest developments? Can the fired staff hope to get their jobs back?

Did P&O break the law?

A statement from P&O Ferries
A statement from P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries insists it did not break the law when it fired 800 workers without notice. The company also announced what it said was the largest compensation package in the British marine sector.

P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, said all vessels involved were registered outside the UK and the relevant authorities in each case had been notified.

In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng dated March 22, Mr Hebblethwaite said the “very clear statutory obligation in the particular circumstances that applied was for each company to notify the competent authority of the state where the vessel is registered”. He wrote that notification had been made to the relevant authorities on March 17, and that no offence had been committed regarding notifying the Secretary of State.

But these claims were contradicted by Prime Minister Johnson today who said it looks as though P&O Ferries did break the law and the government will be taking action.

Mr Johnson said if the company was found guilty it could face fines running into the millions. He made the comments during Prime Minister’s Questions today (March 23) shortly after the disgraced ferry company issued a public apology.

The Prime Minister said: “We will not sit by, because under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992 it looks to me as though the company concerned has broken the law, and we will be taking action, therefore, and we will be encouraging workers themselves to take action under the 1996 Employment Rights Act.”

“If the company is found guilty then they face fines running into millions of pounds, and in addition we will be taking steps to protect all mariners who are working in UK waters and ensure that they are all paid the living wage.”

What has happened to the fired staff?

P&O said it is paying (subject to settlement agreement) 2.5weeks’ uncapped salary
P&O said it is paying (subject to settlement agreement) 2.5weeks’ uncapped salary

P&O Ferries is offering £36.5 million in compensation to sacked staff, with 40 employees in line for packets of more than £100,000. The company said payouts would be linked to the period of service, and in some cases exceed £170,000.

The total value of the settlement is £36,541,648, P&O said. Employees are also being given support to find a new job at sea or onshore, while the company added that 575 of the 786 seafarers affected are in discussions to progress with the severance offers.

A spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: “This has been an incredibly tough decision for the business: to make this choice or face taking the company into administration. This would have meant the loss of 3,000 jobs and the end of P&O Ferries. In making this hard choice, we have guaranteed the future viability of P&O Ferries, avoided large-scale and lengthy disruption, and secured Britain’s trading capacity.”

P&O said it is paying (subject to settlement agreement) 2.5weeks’ uncapped salary for each year employed rather than the statutory 1 or 1.5 weeks and up to 13 weeks’ salary in lieu of notice. There will also be 13 weeks’ salary on top of this in absence of consultation; some employees are receiving 91 weeks’ pay and the chance of new employment, said the company.

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Are P&O Ferries still running?

Some services are running, such as the Liverpool to Dublin route. But a lot of services are being cancelled last minute and people with tickets are urged to make reservations with DFDS and other rival ferry operators.

Who is running the services?

Signs erected near the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster
Signs erected near the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster

It was revealed by the RMT – Rail, Maritime and Transport Union – that the P&O Ferry staff have been replaced by foreign workers on £1.81 an hour.

People have been dubbing the ferries as “slave ships” and there are reports that staff are working 12-hour shifts and are unable to afford decent accommodation. Some are said to be camping in tents when they are not working on board the ships.

The RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch said the reported sum represented a “shocking exploitation” and called the Kent vessels “ships of shame”.

He added: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid 2.38 dollars an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked. The rule of law and acceptable norms of decent employment and behaviour have completely broken down beneath the white cliffs of Dover and in other ports, yet five days into this national crisis the Government has done nothing to stop it.

“These ships of shame must not be allowed to sail. The Government has to step in now and take control before it’s too late.”

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour. But companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages – some vessels operated by P&O Ferries are flagged in Cyprus.

I have a cruise booked with P&O, has this been affected?

P&O Cruises has nothing to do with P&O Ferries. It is owned by Carnival Cruise Line which is an entirely different company.

Article Source: Kent Live