P&O lambasted by DUP leader over ‘disgraceful’ treatment of ferry staff

P&O’s treatment of its seafaring staff has been an “absolute disgrace” Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

By Mark Rainey and PA
Sunday, 20th March 2022, 11:43 am
Updated Sunday, 20th March 2022, 12:38 pm

The DUP leader made his comments in support of workers protesting at Larne Port after they were escorted off their ferry without notice.

The ferry company provoked outrage on Thursday when bosses unexpectedly directed all services to dock – then announced that 800 staff no longer had jobs.

In some cases, buses filled with agency staff – being paid less than the existing crews – were already on site and ready to crew the vessels.

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Three sacked P&O crew members, left to right Colin Mansfield, Gail Dowey and Daniel McDonald protest at Larne Port after P&O Ferries suspended sailings and handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices. Picture: PA Wire/PA images

“I think that the way that these workers were treated by P&O is an absolute disgrace,” Sir Jeffrey said.

“We will do everything in our power at Stormont and at Westminster to ensure that they [the workers] get support and that we help Larne Port recover from this situation, so that ferry services – the vital links between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom are sustained going forward,” he told the BBC.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “P&O’s actions are simple Orwellian. A Big Brother video terminating employment, with faceless enforcers with handcuffs clearing ships, is simply shocking.”

Fellow UUP MLA Roy Beggs said that the company has wrecked its own image, in spite of its deep-pocketed PR campaigns.

“DP World Limited are the ultimate owners of P&O Ferries, and they are spending tens of millions of pounds in sponsorship of golf’s European tour which will be known as the DP World Tour,” he said.

“However, the company’s reputation is in tatters as a result of P&O Ferries treatment of their staff who they sacked without notice via video call.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said he had raised the issue with the PSNI chief constable.

“The treatment and mass firing of workers by P&O yesterday was utterly shameful,” he said.

“I’m also deeply concerned at reports of a private security company, equipped with handcuffs and some wearing balaclavas, being hired to remove workers from boats.”

In Westminster, Tory business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in an open letter to P&O: “It is particularly depressing that this should happen given the millions of pounds of British taxpayer support P&O companies received from the furlough scheme.

“It cannot be right that the company feels tied closely enough to the UK to receive significant amounts of taxpayer money but does not appear willing to abide by the rules that we have put in place to protect British workers.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said P&O Ferries had only let a “very small group” of officials know about the decision on Wednesday evening, meaning it was “far too late” for the Government to intervene.

“The lack of engagement, of prior notice, or of any empathy whatsoever for your workers... was completely unacceptable,” he said.

Police maintained a low-key presence at the protest on Friday, with several PSNI cars parked a short distance from the demonstration.

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