P&O Ferries sackings: UK government to review contracts with firm

Oliver Dowden says government is trying to establish if the mass sacking was legal

A P&O ferry in port in Dover. There has been uproar and condemnation from UK government ministers and trade unions following the sacking of hundreds of British P&O Ferries staff who are to be replaced by agency workers. Photograph: EPA

P&O Ferries and its parent company DP World should be “in no doubt” that the British government is considering its links with them following the mass sacking of 800 seafarers, Tory chairman Oliver Dowden said on Saturday.

Protesters will march on the Tory spring conference in Blackpool to register their outrage at the sudden announcement.

Labour has urged the government to publish the legal advice it received on whether P&O broke the law when it sacked the workers on Thursday.

The Opposition asked if there are legal moves ministers could take to reverse the decision to make so many staff redundant without consultation.


It also published analysis of data it said shows P&O Ferries has received £38.3million in (€45.6m) government contracts since December 2018.

The contracts with the firms are being reviewed and Mr Dowden said there was “revulsion” about the handling of the process.

“I think they should be in no doubt that the government is considering very closely its relationship with them,” he said.

He told Times Radio the government was trying to establish whether the mass sacking was legal.

“That is why the transport secretary (Grant Shapps) has asked the Insolvency Service to look at the notification requirements, for example, and see whether further action is appropriate,” Mr Dowden said.

“All of us feel, frankly, a revulsion at the kind of sharp practices from P&O. There has been a complete lack of engagement, a lack of prior notice or indeed any empathy whatsoever for the workers.”

Demonstrators will gather at Comedy Carpet near Blackpool Tower today while the Tories are holding their spring forum nearby at the Winter Gardens. The prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel are due to address their party followers on Saturday.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also called on the government to suspend its contracts with the ferries giant, and its owners DP World, until the situation is resolved.

Sir Keir said: “P&O’s actions are aggressive and immoral. The government’s apparent inaction is as telling about their respect for the security of work as it is damning.”

Scenes from a protest at Larne Port in Northern Ireland on Friday after P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices. The P&O vessel the European Causeway is docked in the background. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

He added: “This Conservative government bears responsibility. Boris Johnson’s party has created an environment where big companies think they have licence to ride roughshod through good employment practice, basic respect for workers, and the rights of all to be treated fairly.

“If one company can divest itself of responsibility for its workforce, and the government don’t blink, others have room to do the same.

“We are demanding the prime minister grants access to the legal advice the Department for Transport received on whether P&O Ferry’s actions constitute a breach of the law, and whether there are legal levers to get the decision reversed.

“Full transparency is vital to prevent anyone else from being subjected to this appalling behaviour. Any government contracts they have should be suspended until this is resolved.”

P&O Ferries staff protest in Dover, Britain on Friday over the sackings. Photograph: EPA

Transport secretary Mr Shapps and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to P&O chief executive on Friday to express their “disappointment and anger” at the mass sacking.

Mr Shapps said he had instructed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to carry out inspections of all P&O vessels before they return to sea to check the new crews the company has “rushed through” are safe.

Demonstrations were held at ports in London, Liverpool, Larne, Hull and Dover, on Friday, as unions call for a boycott of the company.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We have to get to the bottom of this scandal.

“The government must be transparent and publish the legal advice it has received. That’s the very least the P&O crew deserve.

“If the company has breached the law it must face severe consequences — not just a slap on the wrist.

“What happened at P&O can never, ever be allowed to happen again.

“Ministers must urgently bring forward an employment bill to stop workers from being treated like disposable labour. The time for excuses is over.” - PA