One of the world’s most well known travel operators has halted services and sacked all its 800 staff to be replaced by cheaper workers.
One of Europe’s largest maritime travel operators has sacked all its staff and suspended services in a move which is already causing chaos at some of the world’s busiest ports.
In a shock move on Thursday morning UK time around 800 employees of P&O Ferries were told via Zoom that their jobs no longer existed. The company said it was “not a viable business” in its current form. But one union said the decision was a “betrayal”.
Despite the sacking, some staff are reportedly refusing to leave docked ships.
P&O Ferries, which operates services between the UK, continental Europe and Ireland has insisted it still has a future. However that future appears to involve cheaper workers, many of who are from outside Britain.
At one port, P&O staff said foreign workers were already waiting in minibuses by the dock to replace them once they left the vessel.
The UK’s P&O Ferries and Australia’s P&O Cruises were once under common ownership. However, the Australian arm is now separately owned and the UK announcement has no effect on P&O Cruises Australia.
P&O Ferries’ flagship service is across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. All 14 of its cross-Channel services have been suspended as have crossings to other destinations including Dublin and Northern Ireland “for the next few days,” the company said.
P&O carried 10 million passengers annually prior to the pandemic as well as 15 per cent of all freight cargo into and out of the UK.
But the company, part of the Dubai Government owned DP World ports, said it needed to make “swift and significant changes” to survive.
“In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business,” it said in a statement.
“We have made a £100 million ($A178m) 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.”
The firm already axed 1150 jobs during the pandemic.
Crew members on board one P&O boat, the Pride of Hull, docked in the Yorkshire city it is named after, have refused to disembark.
“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,” Gary Jackson, an officer on the Pride of Hull, told the BBC.
He said staff had been informed of the mass sacking at 11am on a Zoom call with no formal notice given in writing and no detail on what redundancy would be offered.
In the port of Larne, near Belfast, it was reported private security had boarded a P&O vessel to remove staff.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) said it had told its members to remain on board.
“We are digging in for the long-haul. We are determined to fight,” RMT spokesman Geoff Martin told the BBC.
Mark Dickinson, the general secretary of Nautilus International, another union, told CNN the move was a “betrayal of British workers.”
UK transport minister Grant Shapps said he was “very concerned” about the move by P&O.
“(It’s) important to note other operators continue to run cross Channel routes, so passengers and goods can flow,” he said on social media.
The cross Channel ferry firms have been hit by multiple blows including the pandemic and Brexit. However, the largest long term impact has come from the Channel Tunnel.
It’s estimated that 40 per cent of freight traffic travelling on the “short Straits” routes – the fastest crossing between the UK and France – now avoids the ferries and uses rail services beneath the Channel instead. Three quarters of car traffic that would once have gone on a ferry between Kent and France now uses the Channel Tunnel.