P&O Ferries has announced it is preparing to restart sailings ‘from this weekend’ on routes suspended since it sacked nearly 800 seafarers.
The firm revealed plans to resume operations for four of its ships. It has been prevented from running all but one of its vessels since it announced widespread redundancies on March 17.
Earlier it was revealed P&O Ferry customers face having their Easter holidays ruined after fully-booked rivals said they cannot honour their tickets from Dover to France this weekend.
Anyone with a ticket from the ferry operator has been able to travel with DFDS, one of Europe’s largest shipping operators, over the past few weeks.
But this mutual agreement is being paused on Friday until next week due to a lack of capacity, leaving ticketholders rushing to get refunds from P&O Ferries.
The announcement follows three-hour waits and gridlocked roads around the Port of Dover last Saturday, owing to fewer services in the wake of the redundancy debacle.
P&O Ferries suspended its Dover-Calais crossings on March 17 after terminating nearly 800 members of staff to hire cheaper agency workers.
Announcing the planned return of service, a spokesman for P&O Ferries today said: ‘From this weekend, P&O Ferries are getting ready to resume services across a number of vital routes.
‘P&O has been working closely with regulators to ensure our ships are safe to sail.
‘P&O is looking forward to welcoming back vital services and we expect to have two of our vessels ready to sail on the Dover/Calais route by next week, subject to regulatory sign-off, namely both the Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain between Dover/Calais.
‘P&O are also expecting to be able to sail both the European Causeway, which runs between Larne and Cairnryan, and the Pride of Hull, which runs services between Hull and Rotterdam.
P&O Ferries has announced it is preparing to restart sailings ‘from this weekend’ on routes suspended since it sacked nearly 800 seafarers. Pictured: Long queues at the Port of Dover on Saturday, April 2
A mutual agreement which saw passengers book onto rival ferries is coming to an end on Friday, leaving ticketholders rushing to get refunds from P&O Ferries and rebook with its competitor DFDS
Criminal and civil investigations were launched on April 1 into the company’s decision, which was widely criticised for making seafarers redundant without notice.
And this morning, it was reported that a former P&O Ferries chef, John Lansdown, was suing the business for unfair dismissal, racial discrimination and harassment.
Meanwhile, one of the firm’s ships, the Pride of Kent, was detained in Dover last month after a coastguard inspection found it was ‘not safe to go to sea’.
It came less than a week after the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said another ship, the European Causeway, was prevented from going to sea in Larne, Northern Ireland, due to ‘concerns over its safety’.
In a tweet shared yesterday afternoon, the transport company wrote: ‘All P&O Ferries Passenger Services are suspended this weekend.
‘For travel 8/9/10th April please re-book directly with another operator before arriving at the port.
‘DFDS will not be able to transfer P&O customers onto their services.’
Last weekend’s traffic chaos, which saw some cars stuck for up to three hours, prompted motorists to seek alternative routes towards the ferry terminal causing further delays in towns across Kent which spilled over into Saturday.
Drivers heading to the coast were warned to expect delays well in excess of an hour, while it was reported that some hauliers waited for up to eight hours.
Closures were first implemented on Friday night as part of Operation Brock to allow lorries heading for the channel crossing to be ‘stacked’ on the motorway, in theory allowing them smoother access to the Kent coast.
A Department for Transport spokesman said at the time: ‘We are aware of queues at Dover, and the Kent Resilience Forum and local partners are working to minimise any disruption by deploying temporary traffic-management measures as standard.’
The ongoing dispute involving P&O Ferries has dramatically reduced the capacity of the port.
Last month, P&O Ferries admitted to breaking the law in the manner in which it terminated 800 members of staff to hire cheaper agency workers, a move that has caused a major backlash from politicians and workers (file photo)
Two P&O ferries remain in the Port of Dover, Kent, as freight lorries queue to check in on April 1
A spokesperson for DFDS told The Telegraph: ‘As we look towards the weekend, we have very high booking levels, which sadly means we won’t have any capacity available for other operators.
‘We will of course do everything we can outside the peak weekends to carry as many P&O customers as possible.
‘What we don’t want to do is to create a situation where we have to disappoint customers arriving in the port who we cannot get to France because we are full.’
P&O Ferries was widely criticised for making seafarers redundant without notice on March 17.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Insolvency Service had started ‘formal criminal and civil investigations’.
The Insolvency Service said: ‘Following its inquiries, the Insolvency Service has commenced formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the recent redundancies made by P&O Ferries.
‘As these are ongoing investigations, no further comment or information can be provided at this time.’
P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite told a joint hearing of the Commons’ business and transport committees that his company broke the law by not consulting with trade unions before laying off workers.
P&O Ferries chef accuses bosses of sacking him because he is British as he launches £76million lawsuit for unfair dismissal after he was one of 800 workers fired over Zoom and replaced with cheaper foreign agency staff
An ex-P&O Ferries chef has accused bosses of sacking him because he is British in a lawsuit for unfair dismissal against the company and its chief executive.
John Lansdown, who joined the company as a 16-year-old trainee, was working as a sous chef on The Pride of Canterbury when he was sacked ‘out of the blue’.
The 39-year-old, from Herne Bay, Kent, is the only seafarer able to take legal action against the company, which said all but one employee had accepted a settlement.
In his landmark claim to London South employment tribunal, Mr Lansdown accuses P&O Ferries of treating him unfavourably in a ‘sham’ redundancy because he is British.
He is claiming race discrimination on the basis that P&O replaced staff with non-British crew paid an average of just £5.50 an hour – less than the minimum wage.
Mr Lansdown is seeking six figure compensation for lost earnings and injury to feelings in his claim against P&O and its chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite.
It comes after criminal and civil investigations were launched on April 1 into P&O Ferries’ decision to lay off nearly 800 workers over Zoom without notice last month.
John Lansdown (pictured above), 39, filed a tribunal claim accusing the shipping firm of racial discrimination because he is British and entitled to minimum wage
Mr Lansdown said his action was about the ‘bigger picture’, telling the BBC: ‘This is not just about me.
‘Seven hundred and ninety nine of my seafaring family have lost their livelihoods, their way of life, their homes for half the year.’
In legal papers submitted to the tribunal, he also said that P&O Ferries’ parent company, Dubai Ports World (DP World), is highly profitable.
On the basis of such profits, he also seeks exemplary damages of up to £76 million to ‘deter’ P&O Ferries or DP World from any future ‘fire and hire’ policy.
Tribunals have never previously made a punitive award of damages on such a scale.
Should he make legal history, Mr Lansdown says he would use the money to create a new trust to campaign for improved wages and terms and conditions for seafarers.
P&O Ferries says that Mr Lansdown is the only staff member not to have accepted its controversial settlement offer.
It says that its payouts linked to length of service totalling £36.5 million – with 40 workers receiving over £100,000 and no worker less than £15,000 – is the ‘largest compensation package in the British marine sector’.
In a statement responding to Mr Lansdown’s claim, P&O Ferries says that the job cuts were ‘categorically not based on race or the nationality of the staff involved’.
It insists that the company ‘needed fundamental change to make it viable’, adding: ‘We knew this decision was the only way to save the business.’
Mr Lansdown, who is the only seafarer taking legal action over the dismissal, is seeking financial compensation and exemplary damages of up to £76million (file photo of a P&O ferry)
In his legal document, Mr Lansdown, who is married, tells how he was a sous chef on The Pride of Canterbury on the Dover to Calais route.
He had worked for P&O Ferries in two spells, leaving in the mid 2000s before re-joining the company in 2014.
He was working on the ship and had to leave his belongings behind when he was notified ‘out of the blue and without any prior consultation’ about his instant dismissal, he says.
The RMT union member alleges that private security staff, carrying handcuffs and wearing balaclavas, were hired to remove workers who refused to disembark ferries.
His claim states: ‘I was devastated by the brutal summary dismissal after many years of loyal and diligent service. The manner of the dismissal was harassing.’
He accuses P&O Ferries of ‘violating’ his dignity and creating an ‘intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating environment’.
P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite (pictured on March 24) said his company broke the law by not consulting with trade unions before sacking workers
He says the redundancy was unlawful as there was no fair selection process and no diminished need for his job.
Speaking today, Mr Lansdown branded P&O Ferries ‘unscrupulous’ and said he wanted to get ‘justice’ for all his former colleagues who felt they had little choice but to settle their cases.
He said: ‘The actions of P&O Ferries have upended the lives of 800 loyal and dedicated seafarers and their families.
‘Their grotesque disregard for due process in this country will set a dangerous precedent if allowed to stand.
‘The tribunal claim I have filed is intended to bring Peter Hebblethwaite and those responsible at P&O Ferries to justice and make them accountable for their unlawful action.’
Mr Hebblethwaite previously admitted to MPs that his decision to sack 800 workers without notice or union consultation had broken the law but said he would make the same decision again if he had to.
At the time, he said that no union would have accepted the plan and it was easier to compensate workers ‘in full’ instead.
The Insolvency Service has launched criminal and civil investigations into the controversial mass redundancies.
A spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: ‘No staff involved in the redundancies wore balaclavas nor were they directed to use handcuffs or force.
‘Staff remained professional, sympathetic and calm in a challenging situation for everyone, trying to ensure the safety of all the people on board the ships. There was no harassment.
‘We took this difficult decision as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options but, ultimately, we concluded that the business wouldn’t survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which in turn would inevitably result in redundancies.’