The TUC has warned in a new report that a year on from the P&O ferries scandal, the government has given rogue employers a “free pass to act with impunity” by failing to deal with any of the breaches involved in the unlawful mass sacking of 800 seafarers in March last year.

The TUC identified four specific breaches of law by the ferry company which have gone unpunished:

  • The company knowingly broke the law by failing to consult when making collective redundancies because they were able to price in the low cost of the financial penalties. Following the scandal, the TUC called on the government to increase protective awards and sanctions to a level that would ensure employers would be deterred from brazenly flouting the law, but the government has failed to act.
  • Nor has the government taken any action to strengthen unfair dismissal protections. Although the government launched a consultation on a draft statutory code of practice that would apply in similar situations, employers would only face a 25 per cent increase in the existing financial sanctions, not enough to stop them from breaking the law.
  • The company has got away with failing to notify the relevant government authorities, with the result that a jobs rescue bid could not be launched.
  • Despite the company’s directors admitting that they had deliberately breached the law - these serious acts of misconduct - no action has been taken against them.

The TUC is therefore calling on government to:

  • Increase sanctions on employers who deliberately breach the law to provide a proper deterrent.
  • Introduce fair pay agreements to help lift wages and prevent a race to the bottom, starting in low-paid industries, including ferries.
  • Give workers protection from unfair dismissal from day one in the job.
  • Ensure employers are required to reinstate workers where employers breach consultative duties.

Neil Todd, partner and trade union law specialist at Thompsons Solicitors, who acted on behalf of the RMT union at the time, said:

“P&O Ferries took the callous business decision that sacking its staff unlawfully – despite the financial penalties and public backlash it would cause – was more convenient and cheaper than engaging in meaningful consultation and complying with legal obligations.

“What message does it send to unscrupulous employers if P&O Ferries can get away with paying out what are to them small sums and carry on trading? P&O Ferries should have been a pivotal moment in recognising UK employment law does not go far enough to protect working people, but nothing has changed and three Conservative prime ministers later it is clear this is not a priority for any Conservative government.

“The financial penalties for sacking staff without notice and without any meaningful consultation need to be strengthened and there needs to be legislation that would more easily allow employees to take pre-emptive legal action before any dismissals take effect. It is only these sorts of changes which will ensure no company is emboldened ‘to do another P&O’.”

To read the report in full, click here.