P&O faces calls to hand back government Covid funds after firing UK crew

P&O Ferries is under increasing pressure to return the millions of pounds from the government support it received during the epidemic, after the decision to replace 800 staff members in the UK with cheaper agency staff provoked strong condemnation from politicians and unions.

The company, which owns Dubai World DP, on Thursday suspended the cruises and ordered ships to return to port to lay off their crews, who were immediately fired via a short video message.

“When companies behave badly as P&O clearly behaves, it’s true that the government calls it that,” said James Hippy, Secretary of the Armed Forces, on Friday.

Unions said the company received £ 10m in holiday money during the epidemic.

Hippie said: “I definitely feel it would be the right thing to do for P&O to get that money back. I’m sure Treasury and DFT colleagues will look into it.”

P&O also received a payment of £ 4.4 million through a government emergency plan to maintain freight flow during the closure between May and July 2020.

DP World invested in the free port of the Thames, and its deep container port in Southampton was one of eight bidders granted free port status – which brings tax benefits – by the government last year.

A Downing Street official said the government was examining “very closely” whether P&O Ferries “acted within the rules”.

The government will have to “substantiate the facts” before deciding whether DP World should lose its access to free ports or return vacation funding, the official added.

Labor said ministers – who found out about P & O’s plans only on Thursday – should return money given during the epidemic, suspend government contracts handed over to DP World and remove them from the UK government’s transport advisory group.

“The government must now face loyal workers in the UK who will be undermined by billionaires overseas,” said shadow transport secretary Louise Hay.

Peter Bellwhite, CEO of P&O Ferries, told the remaining employees of the company, in a letter seen by the Financial Times, that replacing the England team with a cheaper team would reduce team costs by 50 per cent.

“This is a model that has been proven to work across the industry, while enabling us to maintain service and safety levels,” he wrote.

Irish Ferries uses the agency’s recruitment model but most of the others in the industry, including Denmark’s DFDS, another one of the three ferry operators between Dover and Calais, employ most of the staff directly.

A large crowd of protesters led by union leaders and MPs gathered at the Maritime House in Dover on Friday morning before marching towards the docks.

Compared to the actions taken against Russian oligarchs, the RMT association said ministers should “seize” P & O’s ships.

Darren Proctor, the RMT’s national secretary, told laid-off workers were advised not to sign compensation packages while unions asked for legal advice.

He said the agency staff put into the ships over the past 24 hours had been on a work contract for only a two-week period, and that management would probably bring cheaper staff overseas afterwards.

“This is an international route, so in order to hire a seafarer in the UK at the moment you will have to pay the national minimum wage. If they hire someone outside the UK, they will not have to pay them the national minimum wage,” he said.

P&O has warned that it does not expect to allow the cruises to restart for days.

The sudden gap in capacity on crucial freight routes, including the short straits between Dover and Calais, has led to warnings about pressure on already stretched supply chains.

DFDS said passenger bookings were three or four times higher than usual in the coming days, as well as over Easter and summer.

The Danish operator added that it has managed to cope with the traffic in ports so far and a respite in the weekend’s transport volumes should help maintain the flow of goods and passengers. Dover Port handles £ 144 billion in trade in goods and a third of the UK’s trade with the EU.

Some P&O freight ferries, such as those arriving at Thames River terminals, which are owned and operated differently from ferries directly affected by job cuts, are still operating.

P&O faces calls to hand back government Covid funds after firing UK crew Source link P&O faces calls to hand back government Covid funds after firing UK crew

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