Northern Ireland politicians denounce P&O and call for urgent government action

People on board the P&O European Causeway ferry moored at Larne Harbor

Northern Ireland politicians reacted in shock after ferry giant P&O laid off 800 seafarers and replaced them with cheaper agency workers.

Calls have been made for the UK Government to intervene to ensure the continuation of Larne’s ‘vital’ service to Cairnryan.

DUP representatives said on Thursday that a conversation with the chief executive of P&O assured them that there would be no redundancies at the Port of Larne as a result of the company’s actions.

P&O’s decision sparked outrage from politicians and workers, many of whom refused to leave the ships, leading to the deployment of handcuffed security guards to remove them.

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, insisted the decision to cut jobs was ‘very difficult but necessary’ as it was ‘not a viable business “in its current state.

But the move was met with concern in Northern Ireland.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said she was “shocked” by the news.

Diverted bus – Co Antrim
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said officials were working on a cross-departmental basis to assess local impacts (Liam McBurney/PA)

“My thoughts are with those staff working for P&O who have lost their jobs as well as those whose travel has been disrupted,” she said.

“This is an evolving situation and officials are working on a cross-departmental basis to assess local impacts, particularly for supply chains, and remain in close contact with their counterparts at the Department for Transport in London.”

She called on the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, to “take all possible measures to save jobs and maintain connectivity for passengers and freight on the Irish Sea routes”.

These concerns were echoed by DUP MP Sammy Wilson and Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MP.

Mr Lyons said the decision would have an impact on the whole of Northern Ireland’s economy.

“The company has informed us that it will be another week before the vessels can operate from Larne Port,” he said.

“While customers have been directed to the Port of Belfast at short notice, they will not have the capacity to ramp up operations sufficiently to meet demand.

“With over half of all our freight passing through Larne Port, this announcement will also cause supply issues for businesses and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as businesses based here who sell to GB. “

Mr Lyons pointed out that he had been told there would be no job cuts at Larne Port.

“P&O’s managing director has assured us that there will be no redundancies at Larne Port and that the company will make an investment going forward to enhance the attractiveness of the port,” he said. declared.

“While this is welcome, it does not make today’s announcement and the manner in which it was made any more palatable.”

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson said the treatment of staff was ‘unacceptable’ and accused the company of paying ‘third world wages’ to crew.

Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim, in front of the P&O European Causeway ferry docked at Larne Harbor
Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim, at Larne Port (David Young/PA)

Some of those who lost their jobs were made aware of the decision in a video call from a P&O official who said: ‘The company has decided that its vessels going forward will be primarily manned by third party crew .

“Therefore, I am sorry to inform you that this means that your employment is being terminated with immediate effect for cause of dismissal.”

Mr Wilson said in speaking to the P&O boss he expressed concern ‘at the way staff, who are to be made redundant, have been treated’.

“I have been assured by the company that staff will be compensated for the lack of notice of termination,” he said.

“The manner in which personnel have been removed from the ships is completely unacceptable and not the way an employer should treat its employees.

“Despite only operating between UK ports, P&O will now pay Third World wages to its crew. This raises serious concerns about the morality of the business.

Sinn Fein economics spokesman in Northern Ireland, Caoimhe Archibald, said the treatment of workers had been “shameful”.

“At a time when soaring prices are exacerbating a cost of living crisis, for a company to lay off workers so arbitrarily is shameful.

“I express our party’s solidarity with the workers and their families who receive this terrible news today.

“I have written to the DUP Economy Minister asking what contact he has had with workers’ representatives and urging that every effort be made to support workers and protect jobs, including representation to of the UK Minister for Transport.

“P&O must be held accountable for these unscrupulous actions and the UK government must take action to defend these workers,” she said.

Stewart Dickson, the Alliance Party MP for East Antrim, called for urgent clarification and urged the Economy Department to engage with P&O.

Port of Larne
MP Gordon Lyons said half of all regional freight passes through Larne Port (David Young/PA)

“I am deeply disappointed with the way P&O has handled this whole episode, showing underhanded behavior which is not acceptable at best and drastic measures to fire staff at worst. There appears to have been no consultation with staff or unions regarding this decision,” he said.

Ulster Unionist MP for the area, Roy Beggs, said ferry staff were treated “roughly”.

“I have never heard of a company treating its staff and customers so badly,” Beggs said.

“This does not bode well for the immediate future of the Northern Irish economy.

“Ferries have been canceled for the foreseeable future, leaving passengers and urgent freight scrambling to book on the rival Stena Belfast to Cairnryan route.

“There is also an urgent need to clarify the status of staff at Larne Port and Cairnryan Port.”