Condemnation as P&O Ferries lay off 800 staff

Image P&O Ferries

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.”


  1. Before getting rid of staff P&O’s parent company should stop paying dividends to stock holders. In these unprecedented times of the past two years with Covid and the huge reduction in travel, it is clear a company is going to lose money. That is why they should now keep their faithful staff and wait for the good times to return. For once I will support any action union members take.

    • Jane, the company has taken a £200m hut over 2 years. Why would they possibly not take advantage of cheaper staffing costs? Perhaps if the unions hadn’t priced British labour out of the market, such measures wouldn’t be required, just a thought 😉

        • Wow is that an echo from the 1970s I can hear…

          No wonder unions have become irrelevant, and the left unelectable.

          • Its only Trade Unions that can stand up against big businesses exploiting workers! I went on a six island cruise about 12 years ago, and most of the crew were from the Philippines! They worked 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week, and were being paid about £2.00 an hour! Thats what will happen to the PO Ferries almost certainly, unless the trade unions stop them!

          • My father advised me to join a Trade Union in 1958, which proved profitable because they managed to get back nearly £17.00 in pay they owed me! Thats about £350.00 in todays money, and I have been a member of a Trade Union ever since, and still am, although a retired member of Prospect!

  2. Ridiculous. How can you make all staff redundant and then replace them that isn’t how redundancy works….

    Almost like we shouldn’t allow as many foreign owners of our large companies.

    If you have handcuff trained security staff to remove loyal workers from yours ships before hand you probably know what you are doing is shady…

    And why do we never replace over paid senior managers with cheap foreign labour?

    Turkeys not voting for Xmas I suspect.

    • Nothing to do with ownership of company but flags of convenience. If it was uk or eu registered they could not do it

  3. Absolutely disgusting, these are people, not a faceless commodity, I personally will never use P&O again. Replacing a loyal workforce with what amounts to slave labour is not the way forward,800 peoples life in turmoil, I hope that this is the beginning of the end for this disgusting company, may you and your stakeholders rot in hell.

    • “Slave labour” …. hahahahahaha

      What’s this about “loyal workforce”? You mean they turned up and did the job they were paid to do?

      • A “loyal workforce” is one in which the employees stick by a company through rough times. Maybe putting up with few pay rises or even wage cuts, because in better times the company had looked after and rewarded its employees well.

        • So Andrew, as I said, employees turn up and do the work they are employed and paid to do.

          That’s what’s called “doing your job 😉

  4. The answer is more fracking ask Craig!
    If these staff are redundant then P+O must go through a 90 day consultation period. If they are redundant then the jobs are surplus to requirements and cannot be substituted with other labour.
    The staff will have contracts and P+O cannot just tear them up at will.
    As for hiring in a goon squad, what sort of management is that?
    P+O can do one of two things. One they can go into administration and then everyone is redundant, but the ferry slots and the assets will be managed by the receivers not P+O, in which case the management are also redundant, or they can negotiate revised working conditions with the staff.That will however take weeks maybe months.
    What you cannot do, even post Brexit is chuck everybody off the ship install a goon squad and try to run a service with badly paid ‘3rd party foreign workers’.
    This is a recipe for disaster for P+O, the Govt and Brexit, which was all about saving British jobs, and taking back control.

    • I’m sure that P+O’s lawyers will be grateful for your clearly superior knowledge of employment law George.

      • I am sure they will be. They know they are on a sticky wicket,but hope this will be regarded as a ‘special economic action’,that will save the company and denazify the Dover ferry operation.
        Like their friends in Russia, they may find the cost is greater than the benefits

        • I hope you have contacted the P&O to assist their legal department as your knowledge is clearly VASTLY superior to theirs George.

          How long have you been practicing as a lawyer in the field of employment of crews in the world of commercial shipping?

          How long

  5. yep = roger and craig will say how they are going to ask questions about this , and then do what ? precisely nothing as usual . never mind rog its garden party season soon , these massive companies do as they like with people, probably with the backing of the tory government.

  6. Over the years quite a few ferry companies have shut down. But the Dover-Calais route never seems to shut for long. Another company comes along and absorbs nearly all the workers from the failed company.
    But always on new contracts, usually involving wage cuts and poorer conditions.
    It beggars belief that such a vital international communications link should be disrupted by a private company for its own purposes. A huge amount of our external trade is conducted through Dover. We only have to see the huge lorry queues that build up when there is bad weather to realise that this route is a vital national resource.
    If the Russians did it, there would be a Third World War! But, if a nominally “British” company (who DOES own P&O, by the way) does it, helped by heavies with handcuffs, no one complains!
    I know that Brexit has lead to less trade across the Channel but it hasn’t declined by too much.
    Surely, just as has happened when train companies go bust, the government should step in to take over the routes affected. Only, unlike with the railways, perhaps they had better KEEP the ferry route as a vital national asset that is too important to be left to private companies.

  7. If we were still in the EU then this could not have happened – EU legislation forbids it. UK workers have been sacked, but not EU ones. Where’s Craig Brexit Mackinlay while all this is happening? Fracking again no doubt. Bloody disgrace.

    • But of course Phil, UK law is unchanged since the advent of Brexit, but don’t let facts get in the way of your fairytale 😉

      • You need to check your facts before penning nonsense ‘Wise’ Merlin. Failing Grayling amended employee protection law in 2018 so that ships registered overseas did not have to notify the secretary of state before mass redundencies. You’re the one in fairytale land.

        • As I have already educated you Phil, UK employment law is unchanged since Brexit, hence Brexit is completely irrelevant in this context, but you enjoy your fairytale 😉

          • As I’ve already told you, Wise Merlin, UK employment legislation was changed in 2018, 2 years after the referendum that started the process of exit. Europe does not have this change, and it would not have happened had Britain not been on exit trajectory. It’s also notable that EU seaman on P&O ferries were not made redundant, only British ones.

  8. When I was made redundant from there a few years ago, there were no union officials on the ships and no strikes. Those who remained after me on a permanent basis lived aboard and got there their tax payment back each year. Now I wouldn’t set foot on P&O again I know what safety is required and just a few weeks training will not cover it. Where have these new agency workers come from?

  9. Always good to see people trying to defend the indefensible… Blame the workers, not the company that took £10 million in furlough payments, begged the British taxpayer for a £150 million bailout, then paid out £250 million to shareholders in the next breath. But, no, it is because the workers are paid too much and have it too good. Wise Merlin, one assumes your name is ironic?

    Bad management and poor treatment of staff is never acceptable. Sacking staff to take on cheap agency labour is not only morally bankrupt but dangerous. The skill, expertise, experience and training just isn’t there. Cost-cutting like this shows a companies’ true colours. If you support it or condone it, you’re as morally bankrupt as them.

    Footnote: I don’t work for P&O, nor do I know anyone who is. I have no personal stake in this, but I can smell when something clearly stinks.

    • I will never understand why people defend big corps when they are taking millions in dividends and management bonus schemes yet say they can’t afford to run.

      It’s ridiculous to always look to blame the little people

    • My name clearly illustrates my ability MargateJim.

      Why is a company seeking to stem monumental losses by cutting costs “morally bankrupt”? That is simply a company being operated by competent management seeking to secure the long term future of a company that has no future making losses of £100m a year.

      As for claims of imminent danger that is of course desperate BS to try and prop up an argument which you know is fatally weak and so full of holes no crew could keep it afloat.

  10. As a retired merchant seaman of 32 years service I was never a fan of P&O so never worked for them but many shipmates did. Their stories and experiences were terrible especially with the laughable H&S compliance. Never forget that P&O Ferries sacked the crews before in the 1980’s offering them new lower standard working conditions which resulted in a year long strike. I feel for these seafarers.

  11. Scummy company acts like scumbags shocker. They should be forced to pay back the 10 million they sponged from the Furlough scheme & the 270 million they paid to their shareholders last year. Somehow I doubt the government will be sanctioning them as they have with the Russians.

  12. Irish Ferries did this some years ago. No Irish crew members except bridge staff. This was on the cards some time ago. Legal or not they don’t care. PM boris loves the middle east owners and tyrants, where is he now? Oh yes trying and failing again in the Middle East tyrant countries. Trade with these and you reap the crap. P&O owners made about 3.5 billion quid profit last year. Avoid P&O if i where you just as i avoid Irish Ferries when travelling there.

  13. If this had happened to french workers the ports would be blockaded both by road and sea. The french government would ban P&O from using any of the french ports.

    But we just say boll**ks ! And roll over

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