P&O Ferries has reassured the Government that it expects its Dublin-to-Liverpool route to resume normal services within the coming days.
The UK-based ferry operator suspended services following a decision to sack 800 seafaring crew and replace them with cheaper agency workers.
But in a statement on Friday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said officials had “received confirmation from P&O that services on the Dublin-Liverpool route are continuing, with additional services to resume on the route over the coming days”.
The assurances came as sacked P&O workers held a protest at the port of Larne in Northern Ireland over the decision. They were joined by union representatives, politicians, some staff from rival ferry companies and members of the public.
The most recent update from P&O said services between Larne and Cairnryan in Scotland remain suspended. It said that "where possible, we are organising travel via an alternative operator", but warned that space was very limited.
The company operates four ships on the Dublin/Liverpool route. Two are operating as normal, another will resume on Saturday while a fourth will resume next week.
According to Dublin Port’s website, several scheduled P&O sailings were dropped on Thursday, Friday and over the weekend.
The spokeswoman said the department had been advised “all commitments with its customers are being fulfilled and they are carrying all trade on the route”.
No Irish layoffs
The department had also been assured by P&O that Irish-based staff would not be affected by the layoffs, the spokeswoman said, “although it is recognised that this is a very difficult time for the company and other employees across the network,” she said.
The result of the company’s decision to sack seafaring staff would likely mean there would be “limited short-term impact on services on the Dublin-Liverpool route”, she said.
“The department will continue to monitor the situation closely with the assistance of the Irish Maritime Development Office,” she said.
The UK government has warned the ferry company it is “looking very closely” at the legality of its decision to sack 800 workers. The staff were fired via a Zoom call and without notice on Thursday. Demonstrations are being held at ports on Friday, with unions calling for a boycott of the company.
P&O operates two routes from Ireland, including a Dublin Port to Liverpool route comprising mostly freight traffic along with passengers in cars, and the Larne/Cairnryan service, which carries passengers and freight.
The ferry company accounts for around 12 per cent of the 1.5 million tonnes of unitised freight – containers and trailers – that go through Dublin Port each year. Two of its four ships on the Dublin-Liverpool route are chartered from rivals Stena and Seatruck.
The group has almost 4,000 employees and operates more than 30,000 sailings a year. The company said it was losing $100 million per year and its Dubai-based owner, DP World, could not keep funding its losses.
Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, said the temporary suspension of P&O services would be a "hiccup" for Irish hauliers.
“We really can’t afford to lose any capacity . . . We’ve had so many knocks, between Brexit and Covid,” he said. Much of the freight transporting on the Liverpool to Dublin route would be supplies for large supermarket retailers, he said.
The disruption would mean drivers and haulage companies would have to try to make arrangements to travel on other ferry services, which could pose problems due to a lack of capacity, he said.
Labour's employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock described the behaviour of the ferry company's management as "disgraceful and callous".