Grant Shapps sends scathing letter about P&O Ferries to wrong person

Grant Shapps sends scathing letter about P&O Ferries to wrong person

‘Angry’ Grant Shapps takes aim at P&O Ferries in blistering letter while Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng slams firm for axing 800 staff after taking ‘millions of pounds in furlough payments’ – but they both address letters to the WRONG person

  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the company only let a ‘very small group’ know about the sackings
  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said P&O Ferries ‘lost the trust of the public’ and gave business bad name
  • Both letters were addresses to the chairman of P&O Ferries who resigned from the role in December 2021 
  • MPs and union leaders have called for P&O Ferries to return any Government cash they received during Covid
  • Company received millions for furloughed staff during pandemic but have now sacked 800 crew members
  • The company said it had lost £200million in two years and had to resort to using cheaper agency crews 
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said his officials were in urgent talks with P&0 Ferries over the situation  
  • Firm operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan to Larne
  • Owned by DP World – Dubai-based company which reported a £683m profit last year and soaring revenues
  • Are you a P&O Ferries employee who has been affected by the decision? Email [email protected]  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has taken aim at P&O Ferries in a scathing letter sent after the sudden sacking of 800 crew members while Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng slammed the firm for axing staff after taking ‘millions of pounds in furlough payments’.

Mr Shapps said the company had only let a ‘very small group’ of officials know about the decision on Wednesday evening, meaning it was ‘far too late’ for the Government to intervene.

Mr Kwarteng said the way staff were treated was ‘appalling’ and that P&O Ferries had ‘lost the trust of the public’ and given the business a ‘bad name’.

However, both letters were addressed to P&O Ferries chairman Robert Woods who, according to company records, resigned from the role on December 21. It is understood Mr Woods was still listed as chairman on the company website. Mr Shapps and Mr Kwarteng will be writing new letters to the actual chairman shortly, ITV News reported.

In the letter addressed to Mr Woods, and initially posted to Twitter, Mr Shapps said: ‘Following the Maritime Minister’s call with your company yesterday, I am writing to express my anger and disappointment about the action that P&O took yesterday to make 800 seafarers redundant without notice and without consultation.

‘The lack of engagement, of prior notice, or of any empathy whatsoever for your workers that P&O demonstrated yesterday was completely unacceptable.

‘Seafarers make a huge contribution to this country, and many have dedicated years of service to P&O, and I was frankly staggered yesterday at the way you dismissed them with zero respect.

‘While I accept this was a commercial decision for P&O to take, I was also deeply concerned at the way in which this decision was communicated to the Government.

‘Although I understand you told a very small group of officials the evening before the announcement, this was clearly far too late for the Government to engage in something you had obviously been planning for some time and were determined to force through.’

The letters came after ‘Tory hating’ union members turned on Dover’s Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke today when she came out to support them over P&O Ferries’ ‘jobs massacre’.

Mrs Elphicke even held a ‘save Britain’s ferries’ banner at the event with Labour’s hard-left former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and amid calls for the Dubai-owned business to hand back their £10million furlough cash, she said: ‘We supported them with furlough and they should be backing Britain and backing Dover’.

But when she began speaking on TV about the sackings being ‘devastating’ for the Kent town, union activists started screaming: ‘We hate Tories, we are the Tory haters’, ‘shame on you’, ‘you’re on their side’ and ‘you voted for fire and rehire’, forcing her to abandon her interview. 

One protester confronted her saying: ‘Tory anti-union laws allow bosses to get away with this’. The Conservative MP replied: ‘Nonsense, it’s bad business behaviour’ before she walked off as others yelled in her face.

The picket then marched on the docks, where police are parked at the entrance to the freight terminal and three P&O ferries – Pride Of Canterbury, Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain – all remain docked. There appeared to be agency staff already working on the ships with security guarding the gangplanks. There were also protests in Hull, attended by Ed Miliband, as well as in Liverpool and Belfast, where police guarded the ports as union members called for ministers to ‘sink P&O’ by nationalising it.

Former P&O staff and RMT members block the road leading to the Port of Dover as P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices, saying: ‘Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes’

Members of the RMT union held a protest in Dover today holding signs calling on P&O Ferries to ‘stop the jobs carve up’

Former staff of P&O Ferries and RMT union members blocked traffic from getting to the Port of Dover on Friday afternoon, a day after the sackings

Three P&O Ferries, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent moored up in the cruise terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent ahead of the company’s announcement

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said P&O Ferries had only let a ‘very small group’ of officials know about the decision on Wednesday evening, meaning it was ‘far too late’ for the Government to intervene

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the way staff were treated was ‘appalling’ and that P&O Ferries had ‘lost the trust of the public’ and given the business a ‘bad name’

It came as MailOnline revealed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are being urged to cut ties with the Dubai owners of P&O Ferries and campaign to stop the redundancies as calls also grew for the Government to claw back £10million in furlough cash. Unions have accused the company of turning UK ferries into ‘modern slave ships’ with cheap labour.

One sacked worker at Hull told MailOnline that the agency workers brought in to replace them were on as little as £2 to £3 an hour, compared with the £28 to £30 hourly rate paid to British sailors.

A new video also showed the brutal and undignified way DP World treated sacked P&O staff yesterday, where security told the crew they had ‘two hours to pack up’ and get off the ferry just minutes after being sacked on Zoom.

The hired heavy in a high-viz told the group of shocked staff: ‘I think two hours would be a reasonable time for you to pack your stuff up and be ready to leave’. The workers replied in chorus: ‘We need to talk to the union’, to which the security guard, backed by colleagues, said bluntly: ‘That’s fine but you’ve got two hours’.

As P&O Ferries’ failed to set a date to restart services and faces a boycott from Britons irate over the sacking scandal, it also emerged today:

  • Devastated workers described dedicating their working lives to the company only to be sacked by video and thrown off their ships with their belongings in bin bags; 
  • P&O claimed £10million in furlough cash during the pandemic – and tried and failed to get a £150million Government bailout. There are calls for the Dubai-owned business to hand any taxpayers’ money back;
  • Downing Street has warned P&O Ferries that there could be ‘ramifications’ over its decision to sack some 800 seafarers. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will consider the removal of public contracts; 
  • Employment lawyers have said the company faces ‘a hell of a lot of unfair dismissal claims’ and the company’s directors could also end up in the dock and face criminal prosecutions for failure to follow redundancy consultation rules;
  • P&O Ferries handles 15% of UK freight and a third into Dover from France. Experts predict that there will be serious supply chain problems for fresh food, booze and engineering parts if the ships don’t start moving again soon;

Local MP Natalie Elphicke clashes with protesters gathered in support of sacked P&O Ferry workers at Dover in Kent

Mrs Elphicke was blamed by the union members and crew she had turned up to support

Backed by a team of hired heavies, this security guard told P&O staff they had ‘two hours’ to clear off the ship after they were sacked by Zoom yesterday

Lorries queue to enter a ferry terminal at the Port of Dover, following an announcement made by P&O Ferries, outside Dover today

P&O carries a third of freight between the UK and France. Their ferries are not moving because of the dispute, causing problems

The protest left the RMT Union HQ and headed for the port where the P&O Ferries’ ships are moored and not moving

Lorry congestion at the port in Dover today. There has been uproar and condemnation from UK government ministers and trade unions following the sacking of hundreds of British P&O Ferries staff

William Hague, DP World chief executive Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem (centre) and Prince William at Expo2020 in Dubai on February 10. DP has given William’s Earthshot Prize £1m

What’s going on?

P&O Ferries has made 800 workers redundant and replaced them with cheaper agency staff.

Can it do that?

Unions have threatened legal action and lawyers suggested workers could bring unfair dismissal claims. Tom Long, partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said the move ‘appears to contravene the requirements needed for a normal mass redundancy’.

Booked a ferry?

P&O Ferries was updating guidance over Twitter every half an hour yesterday. On some routes, including Dover to Calais, it advised customers to show up as usual and make their way to check-in booths run by ferry company DFDS. On others, such as between Larne and Cairnryan, the firm suggested customers only travel if essential.

Other options?

If you are travelling in the near future you can book on an alternative carrier. DFDS and Irish Ferries offer routes between Dover and Calais. There are no direct alternatives for the other routes but Stena Line offers services to Ireland and Holland.


The firm has not commented but its terms and conditions say it will refund the ‘total fare’ of a crossing if ‘we cannot ship you at all with us or arrange a suitable alternative ferry crossing, or if you do not wish to take any alternative journey offered by us’.

And P&O Cruises? 

P&O Cruises is owned by a different company and is not affected by the disruption.

Dover and Deal MP Natalie Elphicke joined workers ahead of their march – but it turned ugly as unionists started singing ‘We hate tories, we are the tory haters’.

She had been speaking to reporters about the the P&O Ferries job losses when some union members began shouting ‘shame on you’.

The Conservative representative said: ‘It’s absolutely been a stab in the back for P&O workers.

‘They need to rethink and change their minds. They need to reinstate these jobs and make sure they back Dover as we have backed them.

‘We have supported them and worked with them for decades – especially throughout the pandemic.’

‘My understanding is they’ve decided to throw over the loyal and hardworking workers here in Dover and put in agency workers.

‘It’s not acceptable, it’s not the way to behave and they should not have just given notice in the way they did and sacked everyone.

‘We have worked very closely with P&O during the pandemic. Myself, the unions and ministers have supported them with furlough and they should be backing Britain and backing Dover.’

Asked if the Maritime minister was given pre-warning of P&O Ferries’ plans, she said: ‘The minister made it clear in Parliament that he had spoken with the P&O chief executive the same day as the rest of us which was Thursday and I had a conversation with the CEO and left him in no doubt that his actions were disgusting, unnecessary and they shouldn’t be doing it.

‘I’ve been speaking to the Union and I know they’re exploring all legal actions and the government is looking at what action is available.

‘It’s absolutely unacceptable for P&O and DP World to act in the way they have. They should reverse their decision. This is not the way we expect business to behave in the UK.

‘It was appalling to have security with handcuffs forcibly trying to take people off the boats. It’s a disgusting way to behave.’

The group started marching down the A20 at 12.20pm chanting ‘seize the ships now’ and ‘whose ships? Our ships’.

Around 200 people made the 20 minute walk to the Port of Dover before standing on the roundabout blockading the entrance while union leaders made speeches.

After around 15 minutes, police urged protesters to clear one lane so traffic could pass, which demonstrators complied with while listening.

The group dispersed at 1.20pm and began walking back to the Union headquarters.

No 10 has said it is probing P&O’s firing of 800 staff over claims it was unlawful – with Boris Johnson’s spokesman refusing to rule out firm being stripped of public contracts if found to have broken employment rules.

‘We are looking very closely at the actions that this company has taken to see whether they acted within the rules,’ the spokesman said.

‘Once we have concluded that, we will decide what the ramifications are. Obviously there are a lot of valid questions in relation to existing contracts, etc.

‘We are working through exactly the detail of what action the company took. Once we have have come to that conclusion, we will set out any further steps’. 

Downing Street has said ministers do not believe P&O explored all possible avenues to secure the future of their business before making staff redundant.

‘We expect companies to treat employees fairly,’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

‘It is only in extreme circumstances that employers need to make extreme decisions to secure the future of their business if all other avenues have failed, including negotiations between employer and employee.

‘We don’t believe this was the case for P&O staff but we are looking into this very carefully.

‘The actions this company took yesterday are deeply disappointing and will be causing deep upset amongst loyal staff.’

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham attended the Liverpool protest and branded the sackings as ‘gangster practise’ – and called for P&O Ferries to be nationalised.

The former Cabinet minister said: ‘This company is insulting the whole country by doing this.

‘They took furlough money and now they done this. It is basically wrong. The government have got to step in and safeguard these jobs. I think they should consider nationalising P&O.’

He added: ‘I have to say to the prime minister that you have to step in and you have to deliver on your practise to strengthen employment law, so this kind of gangster practise cannot be allowed to happen anymore.’ 

The number of protesters later swelled to more than 500 at the Port of Liverpool.

Some help you signs: ‘Sink P&0’ while one activist shouted: ‘Save our jobs’ through a loudhailer.

Student Sophie Hughes, 20, said: ‘P&O have behaved like thugs. They can’t treat people like this and march them off boats. It is outrageous and shouldn’t happen in modern Britain.’

RMT Regional organiser John Tilley said: ‘Words are not enough to save these jobs.

‘The government need to act. The staff who have been sacked are devastated and heartbroken and so are their families. It is a catastrophe.’

Housewife Mary Hopkins, 53, said: ‘I feel so sorry for all the sacked staff. To treat them like this is an affront to decency. The government need to haul P&O over the coals.’

Hull: Protesters outside the terminal today where yesterday a crew refused to leave their ship after being sacked

Hull: Labour Party Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary Ed Miliband speaks during a demonstration

Merseyside: This is the picket Line for the sacked P&O staff at entrance to the Port of Liverpool

P&O is likely to be taken to court by the unions who are being backed by employment lawyers who believe the company  has failed to follow the correct procedures

Belfast: Police guard the dock where P&O ships have been moored after the staff was sacked and replaced with agency workers

Dover: Police hold the protesters back as they approached the port this afternoon

William and Kate’s Earthshot Prize took £1million from Dubai-based logistics firm DP World, which bought P&O in 2019 and is a founding partner of the environmental competition run by the couple.

The future king also met with DP’s chief executive Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum last month, during a visit to the United Arab Emirates for the Expo2020 Dubai event.

It came as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called on P&O Ferries’ bossed to reverse the mass sacking, declaring: ‘Ill treating working is not just business. In God’s eyes it’s a sin’, adding: ‘P&O’s decision to sack 800 workers, without warning or consultation, is inhumane and unethical’.

Employment experts have said they now face ‘a hell of a lot of unfair dismissal claims’ and the company’s directors could also end up in the dock and face criminal prosecutions for failure to follow redundancy consultation rules. But the Government insists it is powerless to stop the ‘grubby’ jobs cull. 

Norman Baker, the former transport minister, told MailOnline today: ‘The very shabby behaviour by DP World is not only a disgraceful way to treat their loyal workforce but must also be an acute embarrassment for Prince William, with the company being a major supporter of the Prince’s Earthshot prize to the tune of £1million.

‘Prince William should without delay use his influence with his friend Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the company’s chief executive, to get them to reverse their appalling action. If they won’t, he should cut all ties with DP World.’

Mr Baker added: ‘The £1million could be used to give £1,250 to each sacked employee. What is clear is that William cannot simply do nothing. He did not create this situation but he has to respond to it.’

MailOnline has asked Kensington Palace and DP World to comment on the calls as unions hold protests in Hull, Dover and Liverpool this afternoon.

Lorries queue for the Port of Dover this morning after P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices

The P&O Pride of Kent and the Pride of Canterbury remain in the docks today amid claims that the ferries may not leave for another 10 days

Men on the bridge of the P&O Spirit of Britain as P&O try to replace staff with cheaper agency workers. It is not known if they are security or new workers learning the ropes

Workmen onboard the P&O Spirit of Britain at the Port of Dover after P&O Ferries suspended sailings

Security also appeared to be guarding the gangplank on to the moored ferry

Queues build at Dover at dawn this morning as all P&O Ferries are cancelled with some predicting it could be ten days or more. People are being urged not to travel unless necessary and there are fears it could enflame the supply chain and cost of living crisis

Former employees of P&O Ferries collect their belongings at the cruise terminal in Dover today after 800 staff were let go

P&O Ferries may not run any services for 10 days as the row over the ‘disgusting’ sacking of 800 crew ramps up sparking port protests today and fears the UK’s supply chain and cost of living crises are about to get even worse.  

‘It’s not just a job…it’s a family’: P&O Ferries HR boss boasted about work culture at shipping firm just months before sacking 800 staff 

A P&O Ferries recruitment video has emerged to reveal a hollow promise made by the company to interested applicants four months ago, which had the tagline: ‘It’s not just a job, it’s a career…It’s family.’

The clip was shared just four months ago by Stephen Nee, its ’employee relations’ chief – who yesterday sacked close to a third of P&O’s workforce in a Zoom call without notice or consultation, to be replaced by agency staff.

Around 800 workers – from captains to check-in staff, engine room staff and cleaners – slammed P&O for ‘scheming behind closed doors before stabbing us all in the back’. In the video, Mr Nee said: ‘I am sorry to inform you that your employment is terminated with immediate effect. Your final day of employment is today.’

Mr Nee was quoting a careers advert on LinkedIn by P&O Ferries, which said the company has ‘our eyes on how we are changing’ and that employers were ‘talking about how they want to do things differently’ after the pandemic.

The full advert said: ‘As we emerge out of pandemic employers are talking about how they want to do things differently. At P&O Ferries we are looking to the future, we may be a company that is 185 years old but we also have our eyes on how we are changing. 

‘Being proud of our heritage and embracing our transformation, we are driving the change for the future of ferry travel. If you want to be join [sic] an organisation that is redefining what ferry travel should look like then check out our jobs.’


Armed Forces Minister James Heappey today called the mass-sackings ‘grubby’ but insisted the Government was powerless to stop the Dubai-owned business yesterday. 

Workers refused to leave their ships after being told in a pre-recorded and emotionless three-minute video they were being fired with immediate effect by Stephen Nee, the company’s laughably titled ’employee relations’ chief. Just four months ago Mr Nee’s company promo video declared: ‘It’s not just a job, it’s a career…It’s family.’

In a recent ‘vision’ statement the business said it will ‘lead the industry in setting the standards for best practice in wellbeing’.

Meanwhile on the dockside the company had already secretly organised for cheap agency staff to replace the sacked employees when the message went out. In shocking scenes, distraught crew staging ‘sit-ins’ on their ferries were then hauled off by ‘thug’ security teams, some wearing balaclavas and carrying handcuffs, forcing the victims to carry their belongings hastily thrown into bin bags.    

Lawyers have said P&O Ferries, owned Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, had shown ‘shocking disregard of the most basic employment law’, with unions likely to launch a legal battle today to protect the 800 workers sacked in one of the most appalling business scandals in recent history. 

With sailing cancelled with no return date, passengers and lorry drivers’ trips are in turmoil and told not to travel to Dover, Hull, Liverpool and other P&O ports unless their journey is essential. P&O Cruises are unaffected because they are an entirely separate company. 

P&O Ferries handles 15 per cent of all freight into the UK – and a third of all freight in and out of France. Experts believe that if P&O ships are in the dock for 10 days as predicted, there could be shortages of fresh food in the supermarkets such as salads and fruit from Spain as well as cheese, wine and croissants from France. Prices are certain to rise – with inflation already at record levels – while parts needed for British manufacturers could also be hit.

P&O is STILL advertising jobs despite sacking all 800 UK workers including several £100,000-a-year roles

P&O ferries are still advertising for 27 jobs just hours after they sacked 800 workers by Zoom call – with some offered nearly £100,000-a-year.

For the 19 roles with confirmed salaries, P&O are willing to pay up to £682,862.81 per annum to these new recruits.

But yesterday the ferry company sacked droves of its workers in favour of cheaper agency staff.

Protestors on one ferry hauled off by security staff wearing balaclavas.

A spokesman for the Rail, Marine and Transport Workers’ union said: ‘We’ve said right from the off that there is no shortage of money in this company.

‘In terms of boardroom salaries, top brass salaries, in terms of dividends and pay-outs to shareholders.

‘There is no shortage of money in this company and therefore the sacking of the entire workforce in the ground was always an excuse to try and get rid of well organised, decently paid workers to bring in cheap labour.’

Customer service roles at P&O typically paid £21,249 on cross channel ferries, according to Indeed – 10 per cent above the national average.

P&O is offering a staggering £75,000 to at least three new positions.

The Solutions Architect role, paying up to £90,000, is an IT position that would allow you to work from home.

In the advertisement for the 37.5 hours a week job, P&O say: ‘There has never been a better time to join us.’

They continue: ‘We are in the midst of a number of major transformations and this role will support work that will have long term impact at P&O ferries.’

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons noted more than half of the nation’s freight moves through Larne port, with the MLA adding the move ‘will also cause supply problems for companies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as those firms based here who sell to GB’.

It came after a pandemic where P&O Ferries furloughed 1,400 of its staff, costing the taxpayer £10million and the business also asked the public purse for a £150million bailout – while its parent company paid out £250million in dividends to shareholders. 

And amid Gulf states trying to buy up world sport, this year DP World began sponsoring the European Golf Tour with a new £146million prize money pot. It also spent a reported £30million on a sponsorship deal with the Formula 1 racing team, Renault, which became the ‘Renault DP World FT Team’. 

Social justice law firm Thompsons said: ‘P&O’s sudden decision to fire all 800 UK staff – via a pre-recorded video call and without a single shred of consultation – is a shocking disregard of the most basic employment law.

The law states that if you’re dismissing more than 20 employees, you must consult with them. The larger the number of employees being dismissed, the longer the consultation should be – up to 45 days. This is a shocking example of a major British employer acting in a wholly atrocious manner – attempting to bypass unions, sack hardworking employees and instead hire staff from agencies who will be paid less and un-unionised’.

And in a warning for P&O’s bosses, Beth Hale, an Employment Lawyer and Partner at CM Murray, said: ‘Is it in the rules? Almost certainly not. What they have done is offer compensation packages that proport to pay their way out of their legal obligations and to bypass them.

‘There’s potential criminal liability for directors as well. So there is potentially an enormous breach – but as I say they are trying to pay their way out of it’. 

Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International said there are ‘serious safety concerns’ around the decision by P&O Ferries to replace its seafarers with agency workers.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There are serious safety concerns, which is why the company cannot reintroduce services with the lower-paid agency crew that they’ve recruited via this company called International Ferry Management of Malta.’

Mr Dickinson said the Maritime Coastguard Agency must be ‘absolutely clear and confident that those new crew, unfamiliar with the vessels, unfamiliar with the routes, with the berths’ can operate ships safely. 

He added: ‘This is an intensely worrying situation. We’ve written to the Maritime Coastguard Agency and we hope and we pray that they will do their job. I know they will. They will do their job and make sure the ships are safe.’ 

Peter Aylott, of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said he was ‘confident’ that the agency workers hired by P&O Ferries to replace its seafarers will operate ships safely.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m content and very confident that P&O will have put procedures in place to ensure that the individuals that are going to be in control of those vessels will be familiar with the ships, familiar with the systems and will be competent and qualified to operate those vessels in a safe manner.’   

Asked if the Government was ‘hopeless’ and powerless to stop P&O Ferries yesterday, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said: ‘That is the reality. You are perfectly right to say that the Government’s anger will mean very little to those who have been sacked in such an appalling way.

‘It doesn’t mean it is not right for me to sit here and look down the camera and say I do feel very sorry for those people and I do think P&O Ferries has behaved disgracefully, and I wish P&O had given the Government and the unions more opportunity to engage with them to try to save those jobs.

‘But ultimately you are absolutely right, it is not something the government could have stopped P&O Ferries from doing and now the focus must be on supporting those who have lost their jobs.’

Mr Heappey said the Government was looking at ways to ‘clamp down’ on fire-and-rehire, having last year rejected a Labour attempt to make it illegal.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘That is true, there was a bill that was brought forward as a piece of backbench business to end the practice of fire and rehire.

‘The reality is that in the government’s view, while the practice of firing and rehiring is clearly despicable and something the Government has been clear that it disagrees over, the scope of that bill was too broad and would, in our view, have had consequences for businesses that would have been unreasonable and actually damaged the employment market.’

He added it was ‘inevitable’ that with inflation rising and the cost of living increasing, there would be more such pay disputes. 

The P&O Spirit of Britain (front) remains at the Port of Dover in Kent, after P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices

Mick Lynch, the union’s general secretary, insisted workers would hold firm and threatened legal action against P&O Ferries

Pictured: a worker looks on from a ferry belonging to P&O Ferries berthed at the company’s terminal in Hull, earlier today

Police at Larne Port where unions are threatening legal action against P&O Ferries after ferry giant sacked 800 workers

The ferry operator, which was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, has cancelled sailings ‘for the next few days’, shortly after the virtual meeting where they told workers their jobs had been terminated with immediate effect. But some predict that sailings may not return until a week on Monday or longer.

Hundreds of those seafarers who have been let go held protests and refused to disembark ships at ports in Dover, Hull and Northern Ireland after the firm was accused of ‘illegally’ hiring balaclava-clad heavies with handcuffs to turf them off the boats. 

The company, which told staff it lost £200million in the last two years, is now facing calls to reimburse the £10million it received in furlough cash back to the Government amid widespread condemnation of how the business was handled. 

DP World was criticised for paying a £270 million dividend to shareholders at the end of April 2020 while P&O Ferries cut around 1,100 jobs as demand for travel plummeted during the pandemic. 

Karl Turner, MP for East Hull, said P&O Ferries had received £10million from the Government for furloughing 1,100 members of staff during the coronavirus pandemic, and demanded the British taxpayer was reimbursed.

Speaking to LBC, he said: ‘All of that money – that £10million for furlough in the pandemic – should be clawed back.

‘Any money that the British taxpayer provided to that business should be taken back from them and the Government should be saying to the company ‘get round the table with the unions and negotiate some sort of deal’.

‘We cannot have a situation like this whereby businesses can behave like this with British workers.’ 

A letter addressed to transport secretary Grant Shapps and signed by Mr Turner and his fellow Hull MPs Emma Hardy and Dame Diana Johnson reads: ‘This shocking move has been made without warning, notice or consultation in a deliberate attempt to undercut the wages and conditions of British seafarers.

‘This is despite P&O Ferries’ owners, Dubai-based DP World, having received millions of pounds in taxpayer support during the pandemic who […] received over £10million through the furlough scheme, and requested a £150m bailout from Government, despite DP World paying out £250million to shareholders.’ 


The letter concluded: ‘We cannot allow a dangerous precedent to be set, all the more so on transport routes which are strategically vital to the UK.’

Decision to suddenly dismiss 800 staff ‘could be illegal’, employment lawyers warn


Joseph Lappin, Head of Employment at UK law firm Stewarts, said the company would have to provide more evidence to prove it acted legally. 

He told MailOnline: ‘It remains to be seen whether P&O can justify the dismissals. Why now and why so suddenly? Based on the limited information available to us, it looks like the dismissals will be both substantively and procedurally unfair, giving rise to claims of unfair dismissal. 

‘However, if P&O Ferries can demonstrate that the sudden dismissals are necessary and crucial to the survival of the business, perhaps to deal with the pressures imposed on the company by Brexit, rising energy costs and the pandemic, an Employment Tribunal might find that P&O Ferries’ conduct was reasonable.’ 

P&O Ferries said: ‘In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.

‘These circumstances have resulted in a very difficult but necessary decision, which was only taken after seriously considering all the available options. 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.’ 


His concerns were echoed by Tom Long, a partner at Shakespeare Martineau, who said P&O Ferries’ decision to fire 800 staff could ‘contravene requirements for a normal mass redundancy’.

He added: ‘Where an employer plans to make 20 or more redundancies, there is a requirement for a period of consultation with employee representatives, such as a trade union. That period is 45 days, where 100 or more redundancies are planned in any one location.

‘As such, P&O Ferries would be expected to undergo this process before making any mass dismissals. It’s not evident whether this has happened, although it would appear not.

‘If employees are made redundant they can bring a claim of unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, with the maximum compensation being up to a year’s salary in most cases. If they were not paid their notice or a statutory redundancy payment, claims could also be brought for these payments.

‘If P&O Ferries failed to carry out appropriate collective consultation in advance of the dismissals, the trade unions could bring a claim about that failure, with a potential award of up to 90 days’ gross pay per affected employee if the claim succeeded.

‘It appears that P&O Ferries will be offering ‘enhanced severance packages’ to staff to compensate them for their dismissals, but whether that offer will be sufficient to prevent significant litigation awaits to be seen.’

Downing Street also condemned the way P&O Ferries informed 800 staff they were being sacked to be replaced with cheaper agency workers.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said maritime minister Robert Courts had raised the issue with the company’s chief executive.

‘The way these workers were informed was completely unacceptable,’ the spokesman said.

‘Clearly the way that this was communicated to staff was not right and we have made that clear.

‘Our sympathies are with these hard-working employees affected during this challenging time who have given years of service to P&O.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the company’s actions ‘disgusting’.

‘It just makes my blood boil. It is a complete betrayal of the workforce. It’s just disgusting,’ he told BBC Radio Humberside.

‘This is a company that had furlough during the Covid crisis. It is absolutely disgusting what they are trying to do. They mustn’t be allowed to get away with it.

‘I just wish the Government had done what we said and strengthened employment rights so they couldn’t do this kind of thing.

‘The Government said it was going to deal with this sort of situation. It hasn’t done it.’ 

The staffing crisis is affecting P&O Ferries, which is an entirely separate company to the holiday operator P&O Cruises.

A spokesman for the cruise firm said: ‘Please be reassured that P&O Cruises is part of Carnival Corporation & PLC and as such is entirely unrelated to P&O Ferries’

Making an emergency statement to the House of Commons, transport minister Robert Courts lead the condemnation of the company this evening.

He said: ‘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 in which P&O Ferries have approached this issue, a point I have made crystal clear to P&O Ferries’ management when I spoke to them earlier this afternoon.

‘I am extremely concerned and frankly angry at the way workers have been treated by P&O Ferries.’

He added: ‘In taking this decision to make seafarers redundant, P&O Ferries have also today informed us they will be suspending services for approximately a week to 10 days while they locate new crew.’

Mr Courts went on: ‘Passengers will still be able to travel to and from the UK, including across the Channel, with freight coming in and out of the country.

‘I must warn travellers they should expect some disruption over the coming days.’

For Labour, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘There are images circulating of what we are told are handcuff-trained security, some wearing balaclavas, marching British crew off their ships.

‘This is not a corporate restructure, it’s not the way we go about business in this country.

‘It is beneath contempt. The action of thugs.’

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, said: ‘P&O Ferries, this once-great flag carrier of the seas, have made an appalling error. If they do not reverse immediately and reinstate the employees and follow proper process, it’s hard to see a way back for them commercially.

‘The parent DP World needs to understand that the British public will not do business with companies who treat their employees with such contempt.

The Dubai Sultan at the head of the corporation sacking ALL P&O Ferries workers from today

P&O Ferries is run by one of the world’s largest logistics firms that is itself owned by the controversial ruling family of Dubai.

Since 2006, the ferry operator has been controlled by either DP World or previously its parent business Dubai World.

DP World’s CEO and Chairman is Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, a well-connected Emirati businessman who’s father was an advisor to the Maktoum family, currently headed by UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

P&O Ferries is run by a Dubai-based firm which is owned by the country’s controversial ruling family. Pictured: DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem

Sheikh Mohammed is also the majority stakeholder in Dubai World, the current parent company of DP World.

With a huge portfolio of businesses and projects that manages more than 70 million shipping containers a year, the firm hold significant business interests and reported a $896million (£683m) profit last year.

Despite this, at the start of the pandemic P&O Ferries were among the firms to apply for a £150m government bailout to mitigate the reported £257million impact of coronavirus on its trade.

Speaking to the BBC at the time, CEO Sulayem criticised the government’s response as ‘slow’ while adding that P&O Ferries had furloughed 1,400 workers.

His request for the money came as DP World shareholders were expecting a dividend of £270m.

Sulayem seen with Prince William and former Foreign Secretary William Hague at an Earthshot Prize event at Dubai’s Expo2020 earlier this year

Having become a prominent face in Dubai, Sulayem has looked to make his mark on businesses and projects in the UK and US.

He is chairman of the Virgin Hyperloop One vacuum train project, and has been pictured meeting with ex chairman Richard Branson.

Sulayem’s DP World has also become a Global Alliance Founding Partner of the Earthshot Prize scheme, established by Prince William, and has donated £1million for prize recipients.

Sulayem was seen speaking with the prince and former Foreign Secretary William Hague at an Earthshot Prize event at Dubai’s Expo2020 earlier this year. 

‘Can I ask that the Government does everything within its power and influence, including tabling emergency legislation if needed, to ensure that this appalling employment transaction cannot be completed.’

Mr Courts said it was ‘a fast-moving situation’ and he would be reviewing ‘what arrangements exist as we go forward’.

He added: ‘I can certainly commit to working with all government departments to consider what relationships we have with P&O Ferries. I will review those.

‘And I will also look to see whether there is anything I can do in the particular circumstances we are dealing with here, though of course commercial matters for a company are primarily a matter for them within the constraints of employment law, which of course in this country is high and there are standards that we expect to be respected and upheld.’

Conservative former transport minister Sir John Hayes criticised the ‘capricious, careless, callous’ decision by P&O Ferries, and suggested the Government should ‘recover any monies granted to P&O Ferries during the pandemic’ in a bid to reverse it.

He added: ‘Don’t let anyone tell me this is the free market.

‘The free market put little girls in factories and boys down mines, and both at risk on the high seas; we thought those dark days had gone – P&O Ferries are either too dim to see that or too dastardly to know it.’

Conservative MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough) said: ‘We should suspend their licences.’

The Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, said: ‘The way in which P&O Ferries and DP World have acted is shabby, disgraceful and utterly unacceptable.

‘They have mistreated 600 loyal workers in Dover, and in addition to this they have brought traffic disruption and put at risk the economy and the trade routes through it.’ 

One of the protesters, who had worked for the company for decades, said: ‘I refuse to move from this road, all this service for nothing.

‘The police will have to take me away.’

Another man, aged 54, who has worked in ferry engine rooms since the 1980s, said: ‘I’m fuming, to be honest with you. I’ve known people who’ve been with the firm for years – this is no way to treat people.

‘It was just a short message this morning saying you’ve all lost a job, basicall, all this service for nothing.

‘I’ve seen coachloads of agency crews waiting in the car park at Hyde services just waiting to come down – it’s as simple as that.

‘There’s going to be a protest here. One of the union guys just said if there’s no one working to come along and support.’

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has told the boss of P&O Ferries of her ‘utter disgust’ at the treatment of seafarers who have been sacked and replaced with cheaper agency workers. 

Just hours after the company announced the move, the Scottish First Minister said she had spoken with its chief executive and had ‘made clear my utter disgust at this appalling treatment of its workers’.

She said on Twitter: ‘I made clear that @scotgov stands with these workers and will do everything possible to ensure fair treatment for them.’

At ports across the UK, workers who had been fired were refusing to leave ships on Thursday, leading to security guards with handcuffs being deployed to remove them.

The ferry operator insisted the decision to cut jobs was ‘very difficult but necessary’ as it is ‘not a viable business’ currently.

Earlier, Ms Sturgeon had hit out at the decision and tweeted: ‘Fire & rehire is an appalling practice & offends the basic principle of fair work.

‘I’m deeply concerned at P&O Ferries announcement – due to the importance to Scotland of Cairnryan/Larne route obviously, but also the impact on 100s of workers.’


Workers stand at the P&O Ferries terminal in Hull after the company made 800 staff members redundant earlier today

Transport minister Robert Courts (pictured today) led the condemnation of the decision by the ferry operator P&O, bought by Dubai-based logistics firm DP World in 2019, to replace the workers with agency staff which was announced over Zoom

Mutiny on the Humber! Hero ferry captain draws up his gangplanks and REFUSES to allow police or new staff to board his vessel in the port of Hull 

By Jessica Warren for MailOnline 

The captain of a giant P&O ferry was hailed a hero today for drawing up his gangplanks and refusing to allow police or new crewmen to board his vessel. 

The captain of the Pride of Hull, understood to be Eugene Favier from The Netherlands, sealed himself and his crew inside the ferry just hours after P&0 announced mass redundancies.

It is understood that he left his ship and went to speak to P&O Ferries officials onshore about the ongoing stand-off on the Pride of Hull. 

Earlier today, the company sacked 800 employees over a Zoom call.

The Pride of Hull normally carries a crew of 141 people aboard and is one of the biggest ferries in Europe.

It makes regular crossings between Hull and the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

The captain of the Pride of Hull, Eugene Favier, sealed himself and his crew inside the ferry after P&O made the mass redundancies earlier today via a Zoom call

Hull’s Labour MP Karl Turner said the captain had taken matters into his own hands and was now operating under maritime law to prevent anyone coming aboard.

He added that those on the ship had enough food supplies to last ‘as long as it takes’ to resolve the dispute.

He said: ‘I’m told by Gaz Jackson, who is the RMT official who is sitting in on the ship, he’s effectively locked in with the ship and the crew.

‘He’s saying the captain is refusing to allow the police to enter the ship. Members have said to me that the vessel has got enough supplies to feed the crew for as long as it takes.

‘As far as I understand in maritime law, even though that vessel is in a port, that captain is still entitled under maritime law to refuse any person onto his vessel.’ 

Mr Turner added that staff on the ship had been treated with ‘utter contempt’ P&O, which is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.

He said: ‘They’re treating British ratings with utter contempt, and they’re treating the British government with utter contempt as well.

‘Boris Johnson was in Dubai yesterday.

‘I’m not having a pop at Boris Johnson, but I suspected P&O ferries, which is owned by the state of Dubai was effectively going to sack every British rating the very next morning.’

Earlier today, P&O released a statement saying they would be making a ‘major company announcement’ to ensure the long term viability of their operations.

Its statement read: ‘To facilitate this announcement all our vessels have been asked to discharge their passengers and cargo and standby for further instructions.

‘This means we’re expecting all our ports to experience serious disruption today, so please bear with us and we will give further information in an all-colleague announcement later today.’

Sailings were halted on Thursday morning and would remain suspended ‘for the next few days’, P&O Ferries told passengers.

P&O Ferries, which transports passengers and freight, operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

DP World was criticised for paying a £270 million dividend to shareholders at the end of April 2020 while P&O Ferries cut around 1,100 jobs as demand for travel collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Manuel Cortes, Transport Salaried Staffs Association general secretary, said: ‘This is absolutely despicable behaviour from P&O Ferries, designed to reduce pay and worsen terms and conditions for their staff. They should be ashamed of themselves, treating loyal and hardworking staff like this.’

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘No one should be laid off with zero notice and no consultation, let alone a whole workforce. P&O Ferries’ secret plan to sack their workers is reprehensible and unlawful.

‘When an employer lays off more than 100 staff at once they must consult workers and unions in advance and they are required to notify the Secretary of State in writing in advance too. The Government must urgently explain what they knew and when.

‘If P&O Ferries breached the law they must suffer severe consequences, with ministers increasing the legal penalties if necessary. If one employer gets away with this, every worker is at risk.’

Tom Long, partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said: ‘P&O Ferries’ decision to fire 800 staff with immediate effect appears to contravene the requirements needed for a normal mass redundancy.

‘Where an employer plans to make 20 or more redundancies, there is a requirement for a period of consultation with employee representatives, such as a trade union. That period is 45 days, where 100 or more redundancies are planned in any one location.

‘As such, P&O Ferries would be expected to undergo this process before making any mass dismissals. It’s not evident whether this has happened, although it would appear not.

‘If employees are made redundant they can bring a claim of unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, with the maximum compensation being up to a year’s salary in most cases.’  

On Thursday, Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson described how ‘people in balaclavas’ had been seen pulling sailors off the ships. 

She told the Commons: ‘I understand from the RMT union that these agency staff, mainly from overseas, are in buses on the quayside with a security firm, hired by DP World, wearing balaclavas and taking British crew off these ships. This is shameful and it goes against all norms of fair and reasonable behaviour.’ 

One P&O Ferries worker, who was among the 800 staff invited to an online meeting entitled ‘important employee announcement’, slammed the firm’s actions.

The father-of-two in his 20s, who lives in Dover and wanted to remain anonymous to protect his redundancy package, said: ‘I had to switch it off. I couldn’t watch it to the end. 

‘Within about a minute and a half of being on it, they told us we were being sacked. I can’t even remember exactly what he said as it’s all a blur. But I just turned it off there and then.  

Darren Procter, RMT’s National Secretary, said the union would be fighting P&O Ferries’ decision until it was resolved and called on the Government to provide additional support.

‘Some people have been working for P&O Ferries for 20, 30 years. They’ve got kids, mortgages. The way P&O Ferries has gone about this has been appalling’, he told Sky News on Thursday.

‘You can expect more disruption in Dover, and around the UK, as a consequence of how P&O Ferries and their actions and how they have treated their employees today,’ he added.

Maritime union Nautilus International’s general secretary Mark Dickinson added: ‘The news that P&O Ferries is sacking crew across its entire UK fleet is a betrayal of British workers. 

‘It is nothing short of scandalous given that this Dubai-owned company received millions of pounds of British taxpayer’s money during the pandemic.’ 

Ministers are ‘very concerned’ about the unfolding situation, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announcing he was holding urgent talks to reduce disruption to the flow of goods between Britain and France. He will deliver an emergency statement at 5pm.   

Two former P&O Ferries workers who have just been made redundant are pictured with their personal belongings and sharing a quick embrace after leaving the Port of Dover this morning

Staff were pictured on board P&O Ferries’ Pride of Canterbury yesterday morning, and seen at the moment they were informed they’d been sacked and told to reapply for jobs

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