P&O Ferries 'confident' of avoiding fine after sacking 800 workers

The Insolvency Service is probing the firm's decision to lay off 786 workers and replace them with cheaper agency staff last year.

P&O Ferries bosses ‘confident’ of avoiding fine after sacking almost 800 workers without notice iStock

P&O Ferries is confident of avoiding a fine after sacking nearly 800 seafarers without notice, according to an internal document.

The annual report of the DP World-owned ferry operator said its directors think an ongoing inquiry by the Insolvency Service will not result in any punishment.

Some 786 of the company’s workers were made redundant without consultation on March 17, 2022, leading to widespread criticism from politicians and trade unions.

They were replaced by cheaper agency staff.

A criminal investigation into what happened did not result in a prosecution.

In relation to the ongoing civil inquiry, P&O Ferries’ annual report said: “The Insolvency Service would need to show that any action it proposed to take was in the public interest and just and equitable.

“The directors consider that it will not be able to demonstrate this and consequentially there is a less than remote possibility of a related economic outflow in relation to any such action.”

This means the company does not think a provision for the investigation is needed in its accounts.

All affected employees were “compensated in full” for the lack of consultation, the document said, leading to enhanced redundancy packages costing a total of £36.5m.

There was a “further impact” from the redundancies in the time it took for ships to return to service due to familiarisation requirements for the new crews and safety checks.

The operator’s financial results for 2021 – before the mass sackings occurred – show its pre-tax losses trebled to £374.5m, from £103.3m the previous year.

The annual report said: “The directors recognise that the actions taken in March 2022 were perceived negatively by sections of the national media and political leaders.

“The directors maintain that the actions taken were necessary for the long-term financial health of the business and that public sentiment will gradually recover towards the business as it continues to operate in a transparent and compliant manner.”

It said the company’s directors believe the company “will have sufficient funds to continue to meet its liabilities”.

But the document acknowledges there is “a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the group’s and company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

This is partly due to a dependence on the availability of “sufficient debt facilities”.

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said the financial accounts confirm the business “needed to make major changes to its operating model in order to survive”.

He went on: “These changes mean we have secured the long-term future of the business, the service our customers rely on and our critical role in keeping the UK connected.

“We are working hard to return the business to long-term profitability, and to thrive in a highly competitive market.

“We are now serving the needs of customers better than ever before.

“We are proud to be the market leader in ferry travel on the Channel.

“In the first three months of this year P&O Ferries carried 45% of total passenger ferry crossings between Dover and France, more than any other ferry operator.

“Last summer we carried more than one million passengers and our passenger booking numbers are now the highest we’ve had either during or since the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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