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P&O Ferries: An employment law perspective

Following the media attention that has been drawn from the ongoing situation with P&O ferries, our employment experts have explained the situation from an employment law perspective.

What is the background?

P&O Ferries caused widespread outrage recently with the announcement that they were sacking 800 crew staff and were planning to replace them with cheaper agency workers.

Staff members were told in a video call that they would no longer be employed after the Thursday of that week, which led to protests and some staff refusing to leave their ships and having to be forcibly removed.

Why could the sackings potentially be illegal?

It appears that when P&O made the decision to dismiss the 800 employees they did so without going through the correct legal processes.

P&O should have consulted with unions and staff about potential dismissals and notified the Government that hundreds of jobs were at risk.

Failure to do so is considered a criminal offence and can lead to large fines.

However, in this situation, UK employment law may not apply as according to the Transport Secretary, as ships in UK waters are operated under international law.

As a result maritime employees do not typically receive some of the same benefits and protections that exist otherwise for workers.

What rights do the employees have?

Under UK law, employers planning to make 20 or more staff redundant within any 90-day period, must first consult staff and speak to trade union representatives.

It is meant to be a meaningful opportunity for employees to put forward alternatives to that enforced termination.

When this doesn’t occur, employees are entitled to take their employer to a tribunal for a case of unfair dismissal (as long as they have 2 years of service).

What problems could arise if workers decide to bring a case?

The main issue workers could face in this situation would be the length of time it takes to complete the process, as on average it can take a year to reach an outcome.

Staff members may have not been able to obtain alternative employment during the claim period and if they chose to be legally represented they would have to pay legal costs even if they win their case.

They would, however, face no issues regarding the fact that P&O Ferries’ owners, DP World are based in Dubai as under UK employment law, workers’ rights are based on the jurisdiction they work in, so because they work in the UK, they are covered by UK law.

What could happen next?

It’s relatively uncommon that an employer would sidestep all of the procedural steps that you should take before even contemplating a mass dismissal like this.

The Government may choose to get involved and take action against P&O.

However, the company has admitted that the redundancies came “without warning or prior consultation” and “that this has caused distress for staff and their families”.

It is believed that the company are now planning to award workers with severance packages related to their length of service, with former crew receiving 2.5 weeks’ pay for each year they have been with the company.

Former staff will also potentially be given up to 13 weeks’ salary in lieu of notice and 13 weeks’ salary as compensation for the absence of a consultation period over the sackings.

How Cartwright King can help you?

Our Employment Law team goes above and beyond to give you the support you need. We listen, we understand and we genuinely care about your rights making sure that you’re treated fairly and with respect.  Find out more about how we can help at https://cartwrightking.co.uk/employment-law/

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.