P&O Ferries sacking 800 staff – What are the legal implications?

P&O Ferries

The UK public and government reacted with dismay after P&O Ferries sacked circa 800 seafarers out of the blue, with no warning or redundancy procedure last month.

In the UK, employers making large scale redundancies, are legally required to consult workers during a statutory notice period before making them redundant. Section 193 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA), specifically requires employers to give the government 45 days’ notice of any intention to make more than 100 workers redundant. P&O did not follow this obligation and it was initially believed it had broken UK employment rules and could be hit with multiple claims for unfair dismissal.

However, section 193A of TULRCA, was added as a legislative amendment in 2018, with the intention to better protect seafarers. The amendment was poorly drafted, and instead of having to give 45 days’ notice to the UK government, in respect of those workers specifically employed as seafarers, it requires notification to be given to the state where the ship is registered. In the case of P&O ships – that is Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas. The loophole has allowed companies such as P&O Ferries to fire staff and hire in agency workers under contracts outside of the UK, paying as little as £5.50 an hour (far below the minimum wage in the UK).

Jas Dubb, Associate Solicitor at The Wilkes Partnership comments: “The UK government is restricted in what action it can take because the new amendment omitted to specify what the penalty should be for failing to notify the state where the ship is flagged of the intended dismissals. There is a complete absence of the power to prosecute for such a breach. However, the Insolvency Service has launched criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances around the redundancies. Further, the government has indicated legislative changes with the intention of introducing the National Minimum Wage for seafarers on international ferry routes arriving in UK ports.”

To discuss anything arising from this update, please contact Jas Dubb on 0121 710 5929 or via email at [email protected]. You can also contact any other member of the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333 or email us at [email protected].

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