IN this new age of technology, men and women who no longer want to be involved in a relationship often take the easy way out and dump their ex via a brief text or video message . . .
Such an impersonal approach hasn't been common in high-profile business – until now.
Admitting straight away that it "wasn't his usual style", the boss of P&O Ferries used a three-minutes-seven-seconds video call to tell 800 staff: "Our vessels will now be crewed by a third party provider . . . so your final day of employment is today".
The ferry operator has been in financial difficulties for some years, and has had £100 million losses over each of the last two years covered by its owner DP World, one of the world's largest port operators, owned by Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund and chaired by Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem.
But its answer to this crisis, quite scandalously, is to axe its entire payrolled staff, many who'd given decades of faithful service, and replace them with cheaper labour in the form of agency staff brought in from Colombia.
Effectively, despite operating purely between UK ports, including on the Larne to Cairnryan route, P&O will now be paying third world wages to its crew, which raises serious concerns about the company’s morality.
Many businesses, especially in the wake of Covid, found they were no longer viable and were forced to make changes just to survive, let alone thrive.
But of all the companies to close (20,000 UK businesses went bankrupt in 2021) or restructure, nothing has been done as coldly and unscrupulously as this (in some cases guards with handcuffs were sent on board ships to remove crew).
Talk about a betrayal. Indeed the RMT union labelled it “one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations”, and is now seeking urgent legal action to protect its members.
The underhanded move by P&O hierarchy, whether dreamt up at its UK headquarters in Southampton or in a Middle Eastern boardroom, is quite appalling corporate practice, and the public have every right to be unforgiving now by taking its custom elsewhere.
The operational changes will have an immediate impact across many industries. Significantly, P&O is responsible for most overseas movement of animals and goods between Northern Ireland and Britain, and is the biggest shipper of breeding sheep from Britain to Europe.
Brexit brought new controls for moving live animals into Europe, and the fact there is no border control post with live animal facilities on the other side of the channel means British breeders have not been able to sustain what was a long standing and important trade for valuable UK livestock genetics. The news from P&O is likely to create further uncertainty and delays.
The NI Protocol has allowed the continued movement of animals between Britain and Northern Ireland, but have imposed serious extra controls resulting in many sheep farmers in Northern Ireland feeling ‘cast adrift’.
It is not clear from the P&O statement what might happen immediately but this disruption will do nothing to allow farmers in Northern Ireland to integrate with the wider UK industry.
For now, there is a huge onus on UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to take every possible step to save jobs and to maintain connectivity for passengers and freight on Irish Sea routes.