P&O Ferries has been set a deadline of tomorrow (Tuesday) to respond to government concerns over its sudden firing of 800 seafarers.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to the ferry company’s chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite on Friday demanding answers to ten questions over the redundancies made to make way for cheap labour to run its vessels.
The letter was sent before the Sunday Times reported that a memo had been sent to ministers outlining P&O Ferries’ strategy before the sackings took place via Zoom last Thursday, prompting calls for a trade boycott of the company.
A Department for Transport spokesperson told the BBC: “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.”
The company said today that services, such as Dover-Calais, are “unable to run for the next few days” and disclosed that it can no longer find travel by an alternative operator on the Cairnryan route to Larne in Northern Ireland.
Kwarteng described the way staff had been treated by P&O Ferries as “appalling” – echoing comments made by previously by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
“It therefore gives the government no pleasure to say that P&O has lost the trust of the public and has given business a bad name,” Kwarteng said in the letter co-signed by small business, consumers and labour markets minister Paul Scully.
They called for a response from the firm, owned by Dubai-based DP World, by 5pm on Tuesday.
Kawarteng said: “It is particularly depressing that this should happen given the millions of pounds of British taxpayer support P&O companies received from the furlough scheme.
“It cannot be right that the company feels tied closely enough to the UK to receive significant amounts of taxpayer money but does not appear willing to abide by the rules that we have put in place to protect British workers.”
The communication, which sought a reassurance that no other similar action was being considered for other UK-based staff, came ahead of union protests over the weekend at ports served by P&O Ferries.
A P&O Ferries statement said: “We took this difficult decision as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options but, ultimately, we concluded that the business wouldn’t survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which in turn would inevitably result in redundancies.”
Chris Parker, a director at rival DFDS, told the BBC that his company is prepared to hire some of those dimissed by P&O Ferries.
“We reduced the capacity of vessels quite sharply during the pandemic because of social distancing. We’re increasing that back up again now and we’re looking for some staff to come in and help us with that,” he said.
- Wizz Air has joined rival EasyJet in offering cabin crew roles to sacked P&O Ferries staff.
Permanent roles are available at Wizz Air UK’s bases in Gatwick, Luton, Doncaster Sheffield, and Cardiff.
Managing director Marion Geoffroy said: “We can only imagine the worry that impacted P&O employees must be feeling right now.
“Regardless of experience, we encourage those looking for a new job to attend one of our upcoming recruitment events, to learn more about the exciting opportunities we have on offer.
“With transferable skillsets, we are confident that P&O Ferries employees would be well positioned to join our team and look forward to welcoming new cabin crew to the growing Wizz Air family soon.”