Northern Ireland

P&O Ferries face widespread backlash after sacking 800 crew

Security staff board P&O's MV European Causeway at Larne Port. Picture by Pacemaker Press
Security staff board P&O's MV European Causeway at Larne Port. Picture by Pacemaker Press Security staff board P&O's MV European Causeway at Larne Port. Picture by Pacemaker Press

P&O Ferries faced a tidal wave of public backlash last night after summarily sacking 800 seafaring staff and replacing them with agency workers.

Up to 30 crew from the MV European Causeway vessel in Larne Port were among those made redundant via a Zoom call yesterday morning.

In England, there were reports of security guards wearing balaclavas and carrying handcuffs being deployed to remove some staff who refused to leave their ships.

The announcement saw P&O's four Irish and British routes suspended, including Dublin-Liverpool.

It is understood a handful of land-based staff working at P&O-owned Larne Port will be unaffected by the redundancies, while a similar number will be retained in Dublin.

The Dubai-owned company plans to resume its Northern Channel service and other routes over the next week.

A statement from P&O Ferries said: "We have made a £100 million loss year-on-year, which has been covered by our parent, DP World. This is not sustainable.

But the company's treatment of its workers sparked widespread public and political outrage.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson, whose constituency includes Larne, said the way workers were removed was "totally unacceptable".

"Despite operating purely between UK ports, P&O will now be paying third world wages to their crew. This raises serious concerns about the company’s morality."

Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald described the company's behaviour as "nothing short of shameful".

"P&O must be held accountable for these unscrupulous actions and the British government needs to take action in defence of these workers," she said.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson called on the Department for the Economy to engage with P&O "over the future of the harbour and any potential ramifications for the port".

"I am deeply disappointed in how P&O have handled this entire episode, showing underhanded behaviour which is not acceptable at best and draconian measures to remove staff at worst – there appears to have been no consultation done with staff or unions over this move," he said.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the treatment of workers had been "abominable".

"P&O claim this decision is the result of lost earnings, but their parent company raked home nearly £700 million profit last year," he said.

"This is the brutal reality for workers in a free market system which prioritises profit above all else."

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said he had never heard of a company treating its staff and customers so poorly, while SDLP East Antrim representative Siobhán McAlister said the P&O had shown "contempt" for its workforce.