P&O Ferries mass sacking plan was 'known about in No10' before pre-recorded Zoom dismissal

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P&O Ferries worker documents moment he is told to leave his job

Dubai-based DP World, which owns the ships, informed staff in a pre-recorded video message their employment was over on Thursday, March 17. But Government officials, it emerged, were aware of the company’s plans on Wednesday, March 16, with Labour and unions accusing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team of being “complicit” in P&O’s move. A memo sent to ministers by a senior Whitehall official — and seen by the Sunday Times — outlined P&O Ferries’ strategy before the sackings took place, the newspaper said.

According to the note, Department for Transport civil servants explained the action to colleagues the night before the redundancies.

It read: “We understand that P&O Ferries have an intention to try and re-employ many staff on new terms and conditions or use agency staff to restart routes.

“Without these decisions, an estimated 2,200 staff would likely lose their jobs.

“These changes will align them with other companies in the market who have undertaken a large reduction in staff.”

The memo also said the sackings were designed to ensure P&O remained “a key player in the UK market for years to come through restructuring”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I don’t know exactly when the Prime Minister was informed.”

READ MORE: Why has P&O sacked its staff?

Boris Johnson and P&O ferry

No10 was aware of P&O’s plans to sack 800 staff the night before it happened, it has emerged (Image: Getty)

And the Department for Transport (DfT) said it was “standard practice” for officials to outline what they had been told by a private firm in an internal memo.

A DfT spokesperson said: “This was sent before Ministers were advised of the full details and as soon as they were informed, they made clear their outrage at the way in which P&O staff had been dismissed.

“It is clear from the memo that our immediate priority was to work with unions to ensure workers; rights continue to be protected and the Transport Secretary has urged the company to sit down with workers and reconsider this action.”

But Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: “Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, have serious questions to answer.

“This report shows his government sat on its hands and did nothing while hundreds of jobs and livelihoods were on the line.

“There was no attempt to challenge P&O on these unconscionable tactics – or even question whether these actions were legal.

“This is a national scandal. It has to be a catalyst for change on workers’ rights.”

P&O staff protest against mass sacking

Ex-workers in Hull protest against the sudden termination of their employment (Image: Getty)

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh added: “This bombshell letter proves that the Government was not only aware of P&O Ferries’ scandalous action – but complicit in it.

“They knew people’s livelihoods were on the line and they knew P&O was attempting to use exploitative fire and rehire practices. But they sat back and did nothing.”

P&O said the decision to make a quarter of its staff redundant was necessary because it lost £100million year on year and it would “not be a viable business” without “swift and significant changes now”.

The company operates major routes from the UK to the continent, including the Dover to Calais journey, one of the busiest sea-crossings in the world.

It also provides crucial links between western Scotland and Northern Ireland, Liverpool and Dublin and Hull and Rotterdam – all of which are currently cancelled.

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Kwasi Kwarteng

Kwasi Kwarteng has been urged to initiate ‘criminal proceedings against P&O’ by Labour (Image: Getty)

The way the sackings were handled was met with particular shock as the long-serving crew were removed from ships by former British special forces staff in Dover, Kent, and in Larne, near Belfast.

Amid widespread condemnation across the political spectrum, Labour has urged Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to launch legal action against P&O.

Mr Haigh, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner and Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds have written to Mr Kwarteng asking if he will begin proceedings for what they dubbed a “scandalous action”.

Under section 193 of the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, employers who want to make more than 100 people redundant must notify the business secretary of their plans, before giving notice to employees.

The employer is also required to do so at least 45 days before the dismissals.

The ferry company, which still employs another 2,200 people, did not comply with this.

The Labour MPs wrote in their letter to Mr Kwarteng: “An employer who fails to provide that notification is committing a criminal offence, and liable to an unlimited fine. It is for you, as secretary of state, to launch that action.”

They asked: “Will you be commencing criminal proceedings against P&O Ferries, as well as individual directors and managers as permitted under law? If not, could you explain why?”

Labour added: “If an exploitative employer can escape without any consequences for this egregious action, it will give the green light to bad bosses across the country.”

It came after Mr Kwarteng wrote to P&O Ferries on Friday, expressing the Government’s “anger and disappointment” over the way it had handled the redundancies.

He asked the ferry company a series of questions about why it had failed to follow the above-mentioned processes.

Mr Kwarteng gave P&O until 5pm on Tuesday, March 22 to respond before deciding whether to make a formal complaint to the prosecuting authority.



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