P&O ferries government contract torn up after sacking of staff


P&O ferries

The company said it had no choice to replace staff with cheaper agency replacements because of the pandemic (Picture: Mercury Press/PA)

The government has torn up contracts with P&O Ferries over its controversial sacking of staff.

Nearly 800 seafarers had their employment ended en masse as the company looked to save money by hiring agency staff on lower wages.

Workers on new contracts have been hired from abroad and are paid less that the UK living wage.

Ministers have not hid their fury at the move, describing the behaviour as ‘unacceptable’ and introducing a new law to stop it happening again.

Trade unions and politicians from all sides have accused the company of putting the safety of ships at risk, with one Labour MP branding P&O a ‘national disgrace’.

A civil and criminal investigation into the handling of the affair, which saw 786 employees told at the same time they no longer had a job, is being carried out.

The firm’s chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs in March that P&O Ferries broke the law by not consulting trade unions before sacking its workers.

The government previously said it would review all working relations with the firm in light of the controversial mass lay off.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that an agreement between Whitehall and the firm has been cancelled. 

He wrote on Twitter: ‘I called for a full review of government agreements with P&O Ferries and working with [the Home Office] we’ve terminated [UK Border Force’s] one-of-a-kind agreement with the company.

‘We’re reforming maritime law to stop firms exploiting legal loopholes and protect workers’ rights.’

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed it was also severing formal ties with the company.


A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the sacking of 800 P&O workers near the Port of Dover on the southeast coast of England on March 18, 2022. - P&O Ferries, which sails daily between Britain and France, axed 800 UK crew with immediate effect and suspended services in a bid to stay afloat, sparking protests from angry staff and trade union fury. The Dubai-owned group announced it has shed more than one quarter of its staff in a drastic restructuring to save cash, and halted services for the next few days. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Trade unions have protested against the move but the company has pressed ahead (Picture: Getty/AFP)

A statement read: ‘In response to P&O Ferries’ unacceptable behaviour, Border Force has terminated its agreement with P&O to provide contingency travel services to juxtaposed ports with immediate effect.’

Measures aimed at ensuring seafarers are paid at least the UK’s national minimum wage were included in the Queen’s Speech.

The government will introduce legislation banning ferries from docking at UK ports if they pay workers below that level.

Mr Hebblethwaite has called allegations against the company ‘misinformation’, adding:  ‘We have not conducted ourselves on the day, or since, in anything like the way that has been suggested of me and us.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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