P&O workers and their supporters proteting in Dover in March (Picture: Guy Smallman)

P&O Ferries’ owners recorded record profits in the first half of 2022. That’s the same period when the company sacked 800 workers to cut costs.

The Dubai-based DP World that owns P&O said profits soared 52 percent to £610 million in the six months ending in June. DP World runs the second-biggest shipping terminal in Southampton and the third-biggest in London.

P&O sacked 800 sailors on 17 March to replace them with cheaper agency staff earning an average £5.50 an hour. This is way below the British minimum wage but is permitted as the crew work offshore. Management claimed the company would go bust if it didn’t sack its workers.

RMT union leaders had hoped legal action would stop the sackings. But Britain’s Insolvency Service will not launch criminal proceedings as a result of the P&O sackings. It said there was “no realistic prospect of a conviction”.

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblewaite told a parliamentary hearing in March he had “wilfully” broken the law by paying off staff rather than launching a formal consultation. Bosses told workers to sign rendundancy agreements or get the bare minimum redundancy pay.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that we were required to consult with the unions,” he said. “We chose not to do that.” Hebblewaite then admitted he’d make the same decision again.

Failing to notify the Insolvency Service before launching a collective redundancy process is a criminal offence and can lead to an unlimited fine. But a loophole means the law doesn’t cover some maritime workers because bosses can instead notify authorities in the countries where their ships are registered.

A separate civil investigation is ongoing.

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