P&O Ferries’ decision to axe 800 jobs has been branded the “action of thugs” – as government officials reveal they were not given any warning of the company's shock decision.
The firm – which is owned by Dubai-based DP World – cancelled all services this morning, leaving passengers stranded at Dover and Calais, after informing staff that they were being made redundant.
Security teams – which were said to be handcuff-trained – were reportedly on hand to escort the seafarers off their vessels when the news was delivered to workers via a pre-recorded message.
And speaking in Parliament today, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh labelled P&O’s actions “clearly illegal” and a national scandal.
“There are pictures circulating of what we’re told are handcuff-trained security, some in balaclavas, marching British crew off their ships,” the Labour MP said.
“This is not a corporate restructure, it’s not the way we go about business in this country – it’s beneath contempt, the action of thugs.
“It’s quite simply a scandal that this Dubai-owned company that received millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money during the pandemic has upended the lives of 800 British workers, without notice or consultation. This is while the profits of their owners soared 52% in the first half of 2021.
“Given neither the workers, nor their unions, received notification, this action is clearly illegal.
“This is a straightforward assault on British seafaring. The government must stand up and take action for these proud workers to protect their livelihoods.”
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke also accused the under-fire firm of acting in a “shabby, disgraceful and utterly unacceptable” manner, while Canterbury’s Rosie Duffield stated the dumped staff “just want their jobs back”.
Ms Elphicke had earlier stated that today’s announcement is a “u-turn on assurances given to me and the RMT Union over the last two years”, as she called on DP World to rethink its decision.
All of P&O’s cross-Channel services were cancelled this morning at short notice with travellers being diverted to alternative operators.
Bosses consequently told staff to expect "serious disruption" at all of its ports because of the suspension of trips.
In a statement to MPs, transport minister Robert Courts told colleagues that P&O today informed the government that it would be halting services for up to 10 days while it locates a new crew.
“Reports of workers being given zero notice and escorted off their ships with immediate effect, while being told cheaper alternatives would take up their roles shows the insensitive way P&O have approached this issue,” the senior Tory stressed.
“I am extremely concerned and angry at the way workers have been treated today.
“There can be no doubt that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the finances of many travel companies, but I would have expected far better."
Meanwhile, the Telegraph has been told by a spokesman for the Prime Minister that the government was not told of P&O's plans to cull employees ahead of today.
Mr Courts also informed members of the Commons that Danish firm DFDS will be stepping in to provide alternative services for customers with valid tickets while services are suspended.
“Passengers will still be able to travel to and from the UK with freight coming in and out of the country," the Conservative added.
“I do not expect the supply of critical goods and services to be impacted as a result of this decision.
“Modelling suggests we have the capacity to handle the temporary loss of these P&O ferries.”
This came before he told them that all serving crew members would be fired, and replaced by a third-party organisation.
DP World bought the ferry company for £322m in 2019.
A spokesperson for P&O says the business is unviable in its current state due to its £100 million year-on-year losses.
The official insists that there is no future for the organisation, if these changes are not made.
"These circumstances have resulted in a very difficult but necessary decision, which was only taken after seriously considering all the available options,” he added.
“As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages.
"In making this tough decision, we are securing the future viability of our business, which employs an additional 2,200 people and supports billions in trade in and out of the UK.
“We are ensuring that we can continue serving our customers in a way that they have demanded from us for many years.”
P&O Ferries is a separate company to P&O Cruises which is operated by Carnival UK. It split from the ferries part of the business in 2000 and is unaffected by today's announcement.