The British company P&O Ferries laid off 800 people with immediate effect on Thursday, March 17, many of them over video, leading to travel disruptions and condemnation by government officials over the plan to cut service and replace ferry staff with cheaper labor.
On Friday, March 18th, P&O’s vessels were at a standstill and without crew. The DP World UAE-owned P&O Ferries said on its website there would be significant disruption to its services over the next days as it had become “a more competitive and efficient operator.”
Workers and community members attended protests in the English port cities of Dover, Hull, Liverpool, and the Northern Irish port of Larne.
Ferry crossings between England and France/Holland were canceled for a few days. The disruption of service was likely to delay the movement of medicine, food, and other goods between the U.K. and the rest of Europe, according to union officials.
In an email to staff members on Thursday, P&O’s chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite said the company was reducing its crewing costs by 50% to set the business up for growth. He added that P&O Ferries had entered a partnership with an international crewing company, and that crew from that company would staff vessels affected by the change.
P&O Ferries said that it had notified all affected crew who were working on Thursday in person onboard their ships and that the video was used to inform a total of 261 of the 800 employees who had been laid off.