Mass Sackings At P&O Ferries Caused Fury, And Its Owner Has Now Made Record Profits

Here's why bosses have been branded "corporate gangsters".
The Spirit of Britain arrives from Calais in to the Port of Dover in Kent.
The Spirit of Britain arrives from Calais in to the Port of Dover in Kent.
Gareth Fuller via PA Wire/PA Images

The Dubai-based group that owns P&O Ferries has faced a fresh round of criticism after reporting record profits for the same period 800 seafarers were sacked without notice.

One of the UK’s top union bosses accused DP World of acting like “corporate gangsters” who had got away “scot-free” with replacing workers with cheaper agency staff.

What happened?

Before the pandemic, P&O was one of the UK’s leading ferry services, carrying more than 10 million passengers a year and approximately 15% of all freight cargo going in and leaving the UK.

In March, 800 UK-based crew were fired with immediate effect through a pre-recorded video, which was later leaked to the BBC.

The 24-second clip, showing how the company sacked hundreds of employees remotely, went viral.

The unnamed speaker in the footage said: “The company has made the decision going forward that it will be primarily crewed by a third party crew provider.

“Therefore I am sorry to inform you that this means your employment is terminated with immediate effect on the grounds of redundancy. Your final day of employment is today.”

Even Dover’s Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke condemened the way the job losses were dealt with, saying it was “absolutely disgraceful the way the workers were told”.

It later emerged that most of the seafarers replacing the sacked workers would be paid £5.50 an hour – below the UK’s national minimum wage of £8.91.

The decision was justified on the basis that P&O had no future without a new business model.

Sacking hundreds of workers without notice sparked public anger, and saw the company’s bosses hauled in front of MPs to answer questions.

During the hearings in parliament the business admitted that it had broken the law that would have forced them to give notice of the firings. This was because no unions would have accepted its new proposals, bosses said at the time.

During the session, P&O chief executive officer Peter Hebblethwaite was told company bosses were “behaving like gangsters”.

Committee chair and Labour MP Darren Jones opened the hearing with Hebblethwaite by asking him: “When I was reading your biography, it seemed pretty light on your experience as a chief executive officer.

“Are you in this mess because you don’t know what you’re doing? Or are you just a shameless criminal?”

The inquiry prompted transport secretary Grant Shapps to call for Hebblethwaite to be sacked for “brazen and breathtaking” beahviour.

He said the government would act to force the company to U-turn on their decision, which it has not.

How well are they doing?

DP World said on Thursday that it had made a profit of 884 million dollars (£736 million) over the six months to the end of June.

It was an increase of more than 51% over the year as the business said it had focused on shipping cargo with higher profit margins.

The results did not break out figures for P&O.

What has been the response?

Following the results, Frances O’Grady, the secretary general of the Trades Union Congress, called on the government to scrap all its contracts with DP World.

“DP World have been allowed to get away scot-free with behaving like corporate gangsters,” she said.

“These eye-watering profits have come off the back of P&O illegally sacking hundreds of dedicated staff. They are an insult to common decency.

“Ministers should have stripped DP world of all their lucrative public contracts and severed all commercial ties with the company.

“But now they too are using the P&O playbook.

“Having slammed P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency staff, Grant Shapps has passed laws that will allow employers to bus in agency workers during strikes.

“At a time when the cost of living is soaring and wages are falling, the Conservative government wants to make it much harder for people to win better pay and conditions.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “The Tories allowed shocking, illegal behaviour from P&O and DP World. Now they’ve made record profits while sacking workers only adds insult to injury.

“This rudderless government should be standing up for British workers yet months on, no action has been taken against P&O directors.”

What has DP World said?

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, chair and chief executive of DP World, said: “We are delighted to report a record set of first half results.

“This significant growth demonstrates that our strategy to focus on high margin cargo and to offer customised supply chain solutions will provide sustainable returns in the long term.”


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