By Local Democracy Reporter Jordan Ifield, additional reporting Kathy Bailes
Dover council has joined the condemnation of P&O laying off 800 staff members today (March 17) describing it as a “huge blow” to workers.
All of the company’s on-board crews have had their contracts terminated today – effective immediately – with agency crews replacing them.
P&O Ferries has been making a loss of around £200 million over the past two years which has so far been covered by its parent company DP World.
Talking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Dover council leader Trevor Bartlett said it was a huge blow to the area, adding: “They say they haven’t gone into liquidation and workers can re-apply with agencies. But I don’t ever think that’s a good move.
“I understand that if a company isn’t doing well then something needs to happen and it can’t keep making a huge loss all the time.
“Obviously the pandemic hasn’t helped at all so it has been tough for everyone.
“But to lose a job and then say you can re-apply as agency staff, well that isn’t the same is it.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is currently meeting with P&O directors following the shocking news.
A statement from the ferry operator says: “P&O Ferries have today announced a programme of work to become a more competitive and efficient operator, providing a better service to our customers across the tourism and freight industries.
“While we enact these changes, there will be significant disruption across P&O Ferries services over the next few days, however we are working to minimise the impact.”
The RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) said earlier today: “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.”
The RMT also reports that security guards with handcuffs have been boarding ships to remove crew as the union calls for mass mobilisation against the company.
A notification to security workers brought in for P&O over fears staff could become “challenging” reveals the arrangements were made prior to Tuesday (March 15) with staff asked to be in Ashford that day to attend training the following day before being deployed to Dover today.
The message adds: “The client we are assisting requires 16 Interforce Officers (handcuff trained) to support their security teams in the unlikely event some of their staff become challenging.
“Essentially, our clients client will be informing staff of redundancies and there is a possible risk of backlash.”
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.
“If this happens at P&O it can happen anywhere and we are calling for mass trade union and wider public mobilisation and protest against the company.”
P&O is suspending services, for approximately a week to 10 days, while they “locate new crew.”