The P&O Ferries ‘fire and re-hire’ scandal, what we know now, and could it happen again? | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


When news footage emerged of balaclava-clad security officers boarding a P&O ferry carrying handcuffs to escort workers off, it came as a shock that this was happening in Britain in 2022.

What about the the rights of the British workers many demanded, not least the unions? What about them? P&O Ferries management by their actions seemed to imply, claiming, at first, the company hadn’t broken the law.

However that was seven days ago and things have changed since the fire and rehire scandal began.

Read more:What to do if your travel on P&O has been affected

What is the background to the story that led P&O Ferries to take such drastic and illegal action?

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, insisted the decision to cut jobs was ‘very difficult but necessary’ as it was ‘not a viable business’ in its current state as it was losing £100m year-on-year and its survival was ‘dependent on making swift and significant changes’.

And how did these ‘swift and significant changes’ unfold?

They started last Thursday with an 11am Zoom call from a manager who told P&O workers that they were being made redundant with ‘immediate effect’. His explanation was the company had made the decision that its vessels going forward will be primarily crewed by a third-party crew provider.

How many staff were affected by this?

In all nearly 800 workers were fired without notice and replaced, in the company’s ‘new model’, by overseas staff to be paid an average rate of £5.50 to £6 and hour. The UK minimum wage rises to £9.50 an hour in April.

Former P&O staff members collect belongings at the Port of Dover

And how was the decision received?

The move sparked outrage from politicians and workers, many of whom refused to leave ships, leading to the incredible scene of security guards with handcuffs being deployed to remove them, reportedly for which they were paid £14.50 an hour.

We know workers’ rights in the UK have taken a pounding over the years, but surely this was illegal, wasn’t it?

Not so, according to P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, paid considerably more than £5.50 an hour (a basic £325,000 a year salary). On Tuesday he said it was all above board as the vessels involved on which British staff worked were registered outside the UK and the relevant authorities in each case had been notified.

That’s not right, surely?

It actually wasn’t true and was illegal according to a certain Mr Peter Hebblethwaite, the self-same P&O Ferries chief executive, speaking today.

Answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, he said the company knew it was illegal but ploughed on as “no union would accept the proposal.”

He was acknowledging that while fire-and-rehire is not illegal – which see firms staff to essentially accept the same job for weaker terms and conditions and lower wages – employers have to follow a long process, formally consulting workers and unions and observing set notice periods.

He was repentant and said he wouldn’t do it again did he?

“I would make this decision again, I’m afraid,” he said. “We weren’t viable before, and I know that if we hadn’t made radical changes the business would have closed, and I apologise for that.”

Peter Hebblethwaite, Chief Executive, P&O Ferries
Peter Hebblethwaite, Chief Executive, P&O Ferries

So he would do it again. But can any other company use the same ‘fire and rehire’ tactic in the future?

You’d like to think not but the signals sent out earlier this week from the Government did not fill UK workers with confidence. On Monday night in the Commons, the Labour party forced a vote on ending fire-and-rehire practices and giving P&O workers their jobs back. But Tory MPs largely ignored the motion.





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