Transport secretary Grant Shapps has written to the chairman of P&O Ferries to express his anger at the company’s decision to sack 800 of its employees without any notice.
Shapps used his Twitter account to share the letter, in which he says it is “not too late for P&O Ferries to salvage this situation”.
P&O Ferries announced on Thursday that it had sacked 800 seafarers with immediate effect, causing chaos at ports by abruptly suspending sailings in the process. The firm said it took the “difficult decision” as a “last resort” to save the business.
The letter urged P&O Ferries chairman Robert Woods to “repair the damage that has been caused to your company’s reputation”. In his tweet, he said the company must “sit down with workers and reconsider this action”.
He wrote: “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.”
Shapps added that while he appreciated this was a “commercial decision for P&O”, he was “deeply concerned” at the way it was communicated to the government.
He said: “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.
“P&O has received considerable support from the taxpayer throughout the pandemic, including via the furlough scheme and the disappointment we feel is even more acute because of the undertakings that the company gave not to change terms and conditions when your ships were reflagged to Cyprus in 2019.”
Shapps said that he had instructed his officials to undertake several actions following P&O Ferries’ move. Firstly he will “review all contracts the government currently has with both P&O Ferries and DP World”, and said the government is “closely considering its relationship with your organisation”.
He added he has instructed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to inspect all of P&O’s vessels before they enter back into service to “ensure that the new crews you have rushed through are sufficiently safe to go to sea”. He told Woods he is “deeply concerned” that the firm “may not have followed the correct and legal processes” in letting employees go.
He concluded his letter by saying: “You will, I know, be aware of the strength of feeling that this action has provoked in Parliament, among workers and the public. The way in which your company has made these changes has fundamentally changed the way the British public feels about P&O Ferries – with many believing that they have seen the company’s true colours.
“It is not too late for P&O Ferries to salvage this situation and I await your urgent response.”
The letter can be read in full here.