Update 13.05.20 AM: Since this article was published there have been unconfirmed reports that P&O Ferries staff at Larne and Cairnryan may also be affected. As well as the Larne – Cairnryan ferry route itself, P&O Ferries also owns both ports. I emailed P&O Ferries directly for comment last night. This will be added here when a reply is received.
Update 13.05.20 @ 12:40: According to their representative, P&O Ferries is not releasing any further information about the redundancies or the 45 day consultation process at present.
UK-based ferry operator P&O Ferries has today (Monday) announced a plan to make around 1,100 staff redundant. The number is roughly equal to around a quarter of the company’s workforce. P&O Ferries, which is owned by Dubai-based DP World has started a consultation period with staff and unions. All of the jobs affected are understood to be on routes from Dover and Hull. P&O plans to cut the jobs of 614 Ratings on the Dover to Calais route and a further 122 Seafarer Ratings on the routes from Hull to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam according to the RMT union. The remainder of the redundancies are planned to be officer and shore side positions on the same routes.
The redundancy announcement follows the company furloughing 1,400 people in two stages as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic on trade. According to a letter to staff from CEO Janette Bell, P&O Ferries intends to first seek voluntary redundancies before moving on to a selection process. She also states that the period of consultation will run for a proposed period of 45 days from Monday 11 May 2020, ending on Wednesday 24 June 2020. Ms Bell also says that while UK Government support for freight routes has helped the company, it “cannot replace our tourist business and the huge financial losses I have talked to you about”.
Presently three P&O Ferries ships from the Dover to Calais route, PRIDE OF CANTERBURY, PRIDE OF BURGUNDY and EUROPEAN SEAWAY have been laid up. There have been unconfirmed reports online that a fourth, PRIDE OF KENT, may also join ‘Canterbury’ and ‘Burgundy’ in the Scottish port of Leith in the near future. Both ships at Leith are being prepared for cold layup. EUROPEAN SEAWAY was already out of service before the COVID-19 crisis began. Additionally, both of the Hull – Zeebrugge passenger and vehicle ferries, PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BRUGES, have also been tied up. The former last sailed on the route at the start of April while the latter has been tied up since April 26.
A spokesman for P&O Ferries said: “Since the beginning of the crisis, P&O Ferries has been working with its stakeholders to address the impact of the loss of the passenger business.
“It is now clear that right-sizing the business is necessary to create a viable and sustainable P&O Ferries to get through Covid-19.
“Regrettably, therefore, due to the reduced number of vessels we are operating and the ongoing downturn in business, we are beginning consultation proceedings with a proposal to make around 1,100 of our colleagues redundant.”
The company had already been heavily criticised by both the RMT and Nautilus unions for planned changes to employee terms and conditions. Reacting to this latest news, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said,
“This is devastating news and an appalling betrayal of the P&O work force.
“ This is a kick in the teeth for P&O seafarers who have maintained key supply lines to the UK during the Covid -19 pandemic.
“What is utterly shameful is P&O have been kept afloat by our members and the taxpayer whilst their owners have been paying out hundreds of millions in dividends in Dubai and cooking up plans to permanently replace UK seafarers with low cost seafarers from thousands of miles away.
“This is an attack on British seafarers, crew and the biggest fear is that these jobs will never return to Dover or Hull. But you can guarantee that P&O ferries will still be running passenger ferry services from those ports to protect their owner’s profits at the country’s expense.
“We are seeking urgent talks with the company and will fight tooth and nail against these job losses and we are calling on the government to step in now and nationalise these services to protect jobs and the UK’s maritime interests,”
P&O Ferries has been seeking a £150m bailout from the U.K. Government as part of a £250m “rescue” package. The balance of the money is understood to largely be coming from changes to employee terms and conditions and changes to the company pension scheme. DP World chairman and chief executive Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem has previously ruled out investing profits from other businesses in the group into P&O Ferries. He has also criticised the UK Governments slow response to the request for assistance from the ferry company. The state-owned group was recently valued at just under $14bn and paid out a dividend of £270m .this year.
Competitor Stena Line has also announced redundancies as a result of the downturn in trade resulting from COVID-19. Up to 900 staff in Sweden and 150 in the UK and Ireland may be made redundant at the company. Like many other ferry companies across Europe they also have significant amount of staff furloughed through the UK government job retention scheme or local equivalents.