'It's illegal': LBC's Daniel Barnett on what the P&O sackings mean for staff

17 March 2022, 17:43

By Tim Dodd

LBC's legal expert Daniel Barnett tells Tom Swarbrick that the sacking of 800 seafarers by P&O Ferries to replace them with foreign staff was illegal, and explains what compensation staff are entitled to.

It comes as security guards wearing balaclavas hauled British workers off P&O ships after the company announced on Zoom it was sacking all its 800 seafarers to be replaced with foreign staff

"It is illegal, of course it is... It's unlawful in the sense that the employees will be entitled to certain amounts of compensation," Daniel told Tom.

"There's three sets of compensation they'll be entitled to get.

"First off, notice pay - that might be a little bit for new employees, much more for long serving employees.

"Second of all, a statutory redundancy payment, again, less for new employees, generally a cap of about £10,000 on that.

"And also something called a protective award, which is an award that tribunals give if there hasn't been proper consultation before a dismissal, and that's up to 90 days' pay."

Daniel continued: "What I imagine P&O have done here is they've taken a calculated, cynical view that it's cheaper to get the new agency labour in today and pay this compensation a year down the line, because that's how long it takes for the case to get to court, than it would be to do it properly and have full consultation with the union."

Daniel has also written for LBC outlining what the fallout of the sackings will be for P&O and its staff.

"[It] is a huge bill for P&O, although if the company goes into liquidation, which it denies it will, it is the government and hence, the taxpayer, who will end up paying it," Daniel has written.

He added: "In addition, there is the possibility of P&O being liable for substantial unfair dismissal awards, although there are a number of defences open to it including dire financial need, and that consultation would not have made any difference to what they had to do to save the company.

"Agency workers are not always cheaper. For a start, there is the agency fee that P&O will have to pay on top of the worker’s salary, holiday pay and national insurance. But the chances are that the agency workers will start from a much lower base salary, without having accrued the often decades’ worth of pay increases and benefits that many of the dismissed employees would have had."

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Daniel has also explained that there are other issues when losing a skilled workforce and replacing them with agency workers, including whether the new agency workers will know how to evacuate the ferries in an emergency, be sufficiently trained in first aid, or have any interest in providing good customer service.

"And what about the downtime while ferries are re-crewed?" Daniel asked.

"Passengers who now cannot reach their destination may have a claim against P&O, although there will be complex arguments around how P&O's terms and conditions would impact a passenger’s right to claim compensation.

"It is reported that the dismissed employees will be able to apply to the agencies for work, although the jobs offered will inevitably be on the lower pay and inferior terms that P&O will be offering through agencies.

"The practice of ‘fire and rehire’ always attracts criticism when businesses use that tactic to impose pay cuts. But this is not ‘fire and rehire’. It’s just ‘fire’."

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