On 17 March 2022, P&O Ferries sacked almost 800 employees via a pre-recorded video call. They did so without consultation with recognised trade unions or the affected employees – a legal obligation when an employer is proposing to dismiss 20 or more employees at a single establishment.
Commenting 12 months on from the scandal, Neil Todd, a trade union lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors, who acted on behalf of the RMT union at the time, said: “The government said 12 months ago in unequivocal terms that P&O wouldn’t ‘get away with it’, yet 12 months on, P&O have got away with it and the government has done nothing.
“P&O 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 can get away with paying out what are to them small sums and carry on trading? P&O 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’.
“Sadly, government inertia, as evidenced by the lack of progress in the much-touted yet never delivered Employment Bill, only encourages unscrupulous employers to play fast and loose with the livelihoods of their workforce in the ruthless pursuit of profit.”
“It must also be borne in mind that Seafarer conditions on international routes are particularly vulnerable to aggressive and opportunistic anti-trade union employers. Protections for workers also need to be applied to seafarers on a flag blind basis to deter regressive practices like nationality-based pay discrimination.”