UK government faces emergency vote on P&O Ferries sackings

Sixty Irish workers among the 800 summarily dismissed by Dubai-owned shipping group

Britain's Labour party will force an emergency vote in the UK parliament on Monday over the sacking of 800 P&O Ferries workers. The party will demand that the Government takes action to outlaw the so-called fire and rehire of staff.

Labour said weekend reports suggest the British government was made aware of the sackings before they were announced, and of the plan to use “exploitative” practices to take on cheaper employees.

At least 60 employees who lost their jobs when P&O Ferries sacked them on Thursday are from Ireland, their trade union has stated. Maritime union, Nautilus International, estimated that 25 workers from the Republic and 35 from the North are among the 800 who were dismissed without notice on Thursday.

Nautilus official Mickey Smyth said most work on the European Causeway vessel which sails between Larne and Cairnryan in Scotland.

The union says it feels the actions of P&O Ferries copied the example of Irish Ferries which in 2005 sacked 543 workers back in 2005 and replaced them with cheaper foreign workers.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said such a mass sacking would not happen under current Irish/EU law as there is a transfer of undertakings in Ireland which means new workers have to get the same terms and conditions as the old ones.

Minimum wage

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union has claimed that replacement crews are being paid less than the minimum wage.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has described the sackings as "a line in the sand" ahead of a vote in parliament demanding the government outlaws fire and rehire, strengthens workers' rights, and takes action to force the company to think again.

Labour will call on the government to suspend contracts with P&O owners DP World until the matter is resolved and remove it from its transport advisory group.

Ms Haigh said: “Labour will fight every step of the way for the jobs and livelihoods of these loyal workers.

“This scandalous action must be a line in the sand. If P&O Ferries can get away with this, it will give the green light to other exploitative employers.

“It is the consequence of the Tory assault on workers’ rights.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Ministers and officials have expressed their outrage and frustration at P&O Ferries on their decision and handling of their announcement, and are closely considering the department’s relationship with the company.

Government review

“The transport secretary has instructed a total examination of any contract in place with P&O Ferries and DP World across government, and the department is working closely with unions, the department for work and pensions and industry bodies to ensure that workers are supported and signposted to the most relevant support.

“We have serious concerns that their handling may not have followed the correct and legal processes, and strongly urge P&O Ferries to pause the changes announced, and speak with workers to repair the damage caused.”

Union representatives are also set to brief a Stormont committee on its plans to launch a legal challenge against ferry giant P&O after the sacking of the 800 workers.

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, has insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state. The move has been met with concern in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

P&O Ferries, which transports passengers and freight, operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan to Larne. It has 2,200 employees remaining in the UK and began operating ferries in the 1960s. – PA