P&O Ferries is facing widespread criticism after its decision to terminate the contracts of 800 members of staff with immediate effect over a Teams video call on 17 March 2022.
Reports and personal accounts state a shock announcement was made and staff were dismissed without any consultation taking place. In fact, it has been reported that P&O had several days earlier, placed security personnel in local hotels to ensure they were available to remove staff from their ferries. Moreover, third party agency workers were transported to the relevant ports on buses to replace the workforce with immediate effect.
There may be a question of jurisdiction and whether the employees are protected by UK employment law, as there can be exclusions for those who work at sea. If the employees can assert UK employment law protection, they will have several claims against P&O given the events that have taken place. What are the potential implications for P&O ferries in light of their recent actions?
After this, it gets more interesting.
We note that settlement agreements have been offered and it has been suggested that P&O is seeking to buy its way out of complying with the obligations prescribed by law. Such an approach is legitimate and does happen as there are no real legal restrictions on an employer acting this way and rather it is for the affected employee to seek redress through the Employment Tribunal system – or for the parties to agree to agree a compensation payment.
From what we have heard, it appears that those affected will be able to bring several claims in the Employment Tribunal, potentially of quite high value in some cases. The question will be whether the packages offered by P&O are attractive enough to avoid litigation. For some, settlement will be the right option, but we expect to see a number of claims given the high profile of the situation and the widespread negative reaction it has caused.
Most employers are keen to avoid dismissing staff in whom they have invested time and money but this is not always possible.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), sometimes referred to as “gagging clauses”, are rarely out of the news.
On 5 December 2022, following its Making Flexible Working The Default consultation, which has now concluded, the UK government announced that it will be introducing reforms to the law around employees’ rights to make flexible working requests.
I was interested to read the recent reports in the Guardian and BBC News that Elon Musk has sent an email which requires all staff to sign a commitment to working “long hours at high intensity” and being “extremely hardcore”. They report that the alternative is that they will receive three months’ severance pay.