Boris Johnson: The sackings at P&O Ferries were illegal

LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Boris Johnson has stated that P&O Ferries looks to have broken the law when it abruptly laid off 800 employees, and that the government will pursue legal action.

P&O Ferries’ parent firm, DP World, could face millions in fines if proven guilty, according to the prime minister, who rebuffed Labour’s pleas for government action to reinstate workers and penalise P&O Ferries’ parent business.

Johnson made the remarks at PMQs, shortly after P&O Ferries’ boss offered a public apology for the dismissal of over 800 UK-based workers contracted through Jersey last Thursday.

When Labour leader Keir Stramer pressed on the issue, Johnson said that the government will not sit by because it appears that the concerned company has broken the law under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992, and action will be taken against them, and workers will be encouraged to take action under the 1996 Employment Rights Act.

He also stated that they would take steps to ensure that all mariners operating in UK seas are protected and paid a living wage.

Johnson, on the other hand, ruled out taking any more action against DP World, the Dubai-based owner of P&O Ferries, which is supposed to benefit from £50 million in tax benefits by operating two of the government’s new freeports.

“We will take them to court, we will defend the rights of British workers,” Johnson said when asked by Starmer to “promise that these firms will not get a penny more of taxpayers’ money or a single tax break until they reinstate the workforce.” What we will not do is begin a full-fledged campaign against outside investments, as they would like, because that is utterly wrong, and it is bad for those workers.”

Other workers would fear for their employment if P&O “got away with it,” according to Starmer, who added that the PM’s “half-arsed bluster and waffle today” would provide little comfort.

P&O clearly aren’t going to get away with it any more than any other firm that treats its people in that scandalous manner, Johnson insisted.

Meanwhile, P&O Ferries’ boss, who is scheduled to appear before MPs on Thursday, expressed regret and expressed the wish that “there was another way.”

He apologised to the affected people and their families for the impact it’s had on them, along with the 2,200 people who still worked for P&O and will have been asked a lot of difficult questions about this, Peter Hebblethwaite, the chief executive of P&O Ferries, said after suspending sailings and sacking 786 people on eight of his ships around the UK in the previous week, many by video message, to replace them with cheaper crew earning as little as £1.80 an hour.

The company required substantial transformation to make it viable, he remarked. “All other routes led to the closure of P&O Ferries. I wish there was another way and I’m sorry,” he added.