17 March 2022, 09:55 | Updated: 17 March 2022, 12:18
P&O ferries has suspended sailings.
All staff at P&O Ferries have been sacked and will be replaced with foreign staff with immediate effect, it has been reported.
The cruise company will instead use agency staff to sail their ships, making all staff redundant, The Times reports.
It’s understood current staff will be able to apply to the agency for work.
Responding to the news, Nautilus union chief said: “The news that P&O Ferries is sacking the 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.
“There was no consultation and no notice given by P&O. Be assured the full resources of Nautilus International stand ready to act in defence of our members. We believe it is in our members’ best interests to stay onboard until further notice.”
The shock move comes after P&O halted all sailing on Thursday, causing travel chaos for customers stranded at ports.
Regretfully, P&O Ferries services are unable to run for the next few hours. Our Port Teams will guide you and travel will be arranged via an alternative operator.
We apologise for the inconvenience this will have on your journey plans.
— P&O Ferries (@POferries) March 17, 2022
The company said on Twitter: “Regretfully, P&O Ferries services are unable to run for the next few hours.
“Our port teams will guide you and travel will be arranged via an alternative operator.
“We apologise for the inconvenience this will have on your journey plans.”
P&O Ferries denied the company was going into liquidation and said the move was ahead of a “company announcement”.
The RMT union said it had instructed crew to stay on board the ferries and was concerned that British crew could be replaced by “foreign labour”.
The company said: “We have asked all ships to come alongside, in preparation for a company announcement. Until then, services from P&O will not be running and we are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “We are deeply disturbed by growing speculation that the company are today planning to sack hundreds of UK seafarers and replace them with foreign labour.
“We have instructed our members to remain onboard and are demanding our members across P&O’s UK operations are protected, and that the Secretary of State intervenes to save UK seafarers from the dole queue.”
The move has caused travel chaos for customers relying on the service for their journeys, with P&O still asking people to arrive at the port for the times they had booked.
St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been thrown into turmoil too, with P&O being the only ferry operator between Dublin and Liverpool.
Live updates from the firm suggest it will arrange alternative carriers as quickly as possible for those hoping to continue with their trips.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said his officials were having “urgent discussions” with P&O Ferries after being questioned in the Commons by shadow transport minister Mike Kane.
Mr Shapps said: “I’m working with the Kent Resilience Forum and I’ve just instructed them to become intricately involved and other partners in this, and we’ll be taking steps later today – including ensuring that my officials will be having urgent discussions with P&O about the situation, particularly of concern for their workers.”
Despite speculation over what the announcement will be, a P&O spokesman said it “is not going into liquidation”.
“We have asked all ships to come alongside, in preparation for a company announcement,” he explained.
“Until then, services from P&O will not run and we are advising travellers of alternative arrangements.”
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A statement which appears to be from the ferry operator posted on Twitter by Hull Labour MP Karl Turner said it “will be making a major announcement today”.
This will “secure the long-term viability of P&O Ferries”, it explained.
East Antrim MLA John Stewart, who has relatives who work at the port, said staff were uncertain about what would be announced.
He said: “What we need to hear from the company is that the sailing from Larne to Cairnryan is set in stone and will continue to be there, and they’re going to honour and keep the staff there and continue that sailing because it’s such an integral part of the local economy here.”
.@POferries have apparently instructed their crews both ratings and officers to tie up vessel’s as they are making a ‘major’ announcement today. This is troubling for crews and their families. I am in contact with ratings and officer unions regarding this. pic.twitter.com/W2Kh5WNval
— Karl Turner MP (@KarlTurnerMP) March 17, 2022
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P&O Ferries, which transports passengers and freight, is owned by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World.
It operates these four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland to Larne, Northern Ireland.
Sailings between Hull and Zeebrugge, Belgium, were axed in January 2021.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, P&O Ferries warned in May 2020 that around 1,100 workers could lose their jobs as part of a plan to make the business “viable and sustainable”.
The company that would become P&O was founded in 1837 after signing a government contract to transport post by boat between London and the Iberian Peninsula.
This story is being updated