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P&O “Broke The Law” By Sacking 800 Ferry Workers Over Zoom, Says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson criticised the decision by P&O to sack 800 of its workers last week (Alamy)

3 min read

It appears the ferry company P&O has broken employment law by sacking 800 of its workers over Zoom, the Prime Minister has claimed.

Boris Johnson said the government will take legal action against the firm after it made the shock announcement staff were being made redundant with immediate effect and replaced by foreign agency staff.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions he told the Commons he condemned the “callous behaviour” of P&O, saying it was “no way to treat hard-working employees”.

Johnson told Keir Starmer the government would “not sit by”, and under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act from 1992 it appeared "the company concerned has broken the law and we will take action”.

He said they could face “fines running into millions” if found guilty, and was encouraging workers to take action themselves under the Employment Rights Act.

But Starmer accused the Prime Minister of being “all mouth and no trousers”, and criticised the decision to call a review, saying “reviews don’t save jobs”.

He asked: "800 loyal British workers fired over Zoom, instantly replaced by foreign agency workers shipped in on less than the minimum wage.

“If the Prime Minister can't stop that, what's the point of his government?"

The Labour leader also highlighted the fact P&O have been awarded £38 million of government contracts, while its parent company stands to benefit from £50 million of taxpayer funding under the freeport scheme.

“Will the PM guarantee these companies will not see a penny more of taxpayers’ money until they reinstate the workforce?” he asked.

Johnson hit back, accusing Starmer of wanting to “pitchfork away investment” into the UK, and defending the response to the crisis.

After accusations this crisis was caused by the government failing to legislate against the process of “fire and rehire”, the PM told the Commons: "The most notable practitioners of fire and rehire are, of course, the Labour Party themselves.

“But he may be interested to know we will be vindicating the rights of British workers, UK employees under UK law but the law that P&O, the company themselves, are allegedly relying on was introduced as a result of EU directives."

Starmer said workers he had spoken to were worried they could be next if P&O is allowed to "get away with it", adding: "Why does the Prime Minister think that they will take a crumb of comfort from his half-arsed bluster and waffle today?"

It comes after P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite apologised to the staff sacked last Thursday.

In a statement he said: "I want to say sorry to the people affected and their families for the impact it's had on them, and also to the 2,200 people who still work for P&O and will have been asked a lot of difficult questions about this.

"Over the last week, I've been speaking face-to-face to seafarers and their partners. They've lost their jobs and there is anger and shock, and I completely understand.”

Explaining the company’s decision, he added: "We needed fundamental change to make us viable. This was an incredibly difficult decision that we wrestled with but once we knew it was the only way to save the business, we had to act.

"All other routes led to the closure of P&O Ferries. I wish there was another way and I'm sorry."

Hebblethwaite has also agreed to be questioned by MPs over the incident, and will face a joint Transport and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee hearing tomorrow morning.

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