P&O Ferries will not face criminal charges in the UK over its actions in laying off around 800 seafarers without notice and replacing them with lower paid contractors in March 2022. That was the word from the Insolvency Service British later in the day saying the case would not get up in court.
At issue was the claim by unions as well as members of parliament that the company, under UK law, was required to provide 45 days’ notice before laying off its employees and to enter into consultation with its unions. . However, many said the company was in fact a foreign entity, owned by DP World, and as the ferries were all registered outside the UK, the company’s only obligation was to the flag states where the ships are registered.
“After a full and robust criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employees terminated by P&O Ferries, we have concluded that we will not initiate criminal proceedings,” the Insolvency Service said in a brief written statement released on Friday afternoon. .
The decision, they say, was made following a criminal investigation which was then reviewed by independent senior counsel from the prosecution. The lawyer “concluded that there was no realistic prospect of a conviction”, in the criminal case, but that a civil investigation is underway.
P&O Ferries had said in response to strong condemnations of its actions and a widespread union boycott that the company had no choice but to take the action it had taken. The company’s CEO, Peter Hebblewaithe, appeared to acknowledge questions about the legality of his actions. He told a hearing before a parliamentary committee that the company was threatened with bankruptcy when it decided to lock out the employees, announcing that they had all been made redundant during a brief video that ended by telling them to leave the company’s ships and property immediately.
Scattered efforts to occupy some of the ferries failed, but the company still faced weeks of disruption as it tried to train the replacement contract workforce. The Maritime & Coastguard Authority has launched a rigorous screening of every ship before allowing them to sail while the government has promised to cancel contracts and institute new employment laws that require all seafarers working on ships regularly operating from the UK to meet the country’s minimum standards.
Predictably, unions were quick to call today’s announcement a “deeply disappointing decision”, saying it would spark further frustration and anger.
“The message is clear, P&O Ferries must be held accountable for its shameful actions and we will continue the campaign to ensure the CEO and his fellow directors are held accountable and that this never happens again,” said Mark Dickinson. , Secretary General of Nautilus.
The union continues to say it believes P&O Ferries had a legal obligation to give advance notice to both the UK Secretary of State of its plans and Bermuda, Cyprus and the Bahamas, where the ships are registered. The union says the company failed to notify flag states before laying off crews.
While saying they felt “even more disappointed with the system that does not punish apparent criminal corporations”, Nautilus noted that the civil investigation was not yet complete.
It comes as the UK has faced a summer of industrial action from unions across the country. Trains and other services are on strike and from Sunday Unite the Union promises to shut down the UK’s biggest container port, Felixstowe, for 8 days in its continued demands for pay rises that reflect the rate current retail inflation rate.