The sudden sacking of hundreds of seafarers by P&O Ferries has led to the suspension of ferry services between the UK and parts of Europe including Ireland.
Announcing the decision, the ferry operator insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.
P&O Ferries said in a statement that it had made “a £100 million loss year-on-year”, which had been covered by its parent company, adding: “this is not sustainable.
“Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”
But what has happened, and which company is that parent company?
Here is everything you need to know.
On Thursday morning P&O Ferries cancelled all of its services due to “a company announcement”.
Later, it emerged that the company - which has seen profits and passenger numbers decline sharply since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic - was announcing a major restructuring of its business operations.
It is understood P&O Ferries will use agency workers and that current staff will have to reapply for their jobs through the agency.
Some of those who lost their jobs were informed of the decision on a video call from a P&O official who said: “The company has made the decision that its vessels going forward will be primarily crewed by a third-party crew provider.”
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.
P&O workers in Dover clashed with motorists after blocking a road close to the port in protest at being sacked.
Dozens of employees who lost their jobs stood on the road with banners and flags saying “Stop the P&O jobs carve up”.
One of the protesters, who had worked for the company for decades, told the PA news agency: “I refuse to move from this road, all this service for nothing. The police will have to take me away.”
Who owns P&O Ferries?
The ferry operator was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in a £322 million deal in 2019.
The company specialises in cargo logistics, port terminal operations, maritime services and free trade zones, and was formed in 2005 by the merger of Dubai Ports Authority and Dubai Ports International.
DP World handles 70 million containers annually, equating to roughly 10% of the global traffic.
It is overseen by CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, a leading Dubai businessman.
Who owns DP World?
DP World’s parent company is Dubai World, an investment company that manages and supervises a portfolio of businesses and projects for the Government of Dubai across a wide range of industries.
DP World originally bought the business in 2006 before selling it on to Dubai World in 2009, and then buying it back from them a decade later.
In turn, the parent of Dubai World is Dubai Inc, an umbrella term for a collection of diverse companies owned primarily by the Government of Dubai.
Confusingly, the P&O brand is split between two corporations: P&O Ferries is owned by DP World, while P&O Cruises is owned by major cruise operator, Carnival.
P&O Cruises is therefore unaffected by Thursday’s announcement.
In a message to Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) members, general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This appalling situation has arisen as a result of DP World wishing to maximise their profits and the failure of the Government to intervene and protect the jobs of you and your colleagues.”
Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, said: “The parent DP World needs to understand that the British public will not do business with companies who treat their employees with such contempt.”
What does it mean for the future?
Safety fears have been raised over the decisio to sack 800 seafarers with no notice and replace them with cheaper agency workers.
Trade union Nautilus International, which represents some of those fired, urged the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to “make sure the ships are safe” as the new crews are “unfamiliar” with the vessels and routes.
Nautilus International general secretary Mark Dickinson said it was “an intensely worrying situation” as sailing ships across the Channel is “like walking across a six-lane motorway at rush hour”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are serious safety concerns, which is why the company cannot reintroduce services with the lower-paid agency crew that they’ve recruited via this company called International Ferry Management of Malta.”
Dickinson said the MCA must be “absolutely clear and confident that those new crew, unfamiliar with the vessels, unfamiliar with the routes, with the berths” can operate the ships safely.
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