Few will recall but that was the ill-timed slogan P&O European Ferries chose to re-badge Townsend Thoresen after their acquisition of it in 1987. Unfortunately coinciding in the national press with the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise and the loss of 193 lives and the worst British peacetime shipping loss since 1909.
The Company does not have a good PR history.
And now the current debacle. Estimates seem to vary between 800 and 1,100 seafarers summarily dismissed. Referred to in the press as ‘redundant’, this is not a redundancy. That particular term of art deals with a situation when the need for work of a certain kind cease or diminishes, or shall cease or diminish, in a particular location. Clearly, the Employers’ insistence on replacing staff and continuing the company’s business give the lie to this. This is not a redundancy; work continues and this excuse is not available to the employer.
It is difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in this maelstrom. It does appear that staff were dismissed ‘with immediate effect’ from the workplace via a video. But why their employer believes this is proof against criminal charges of assault and false imprisonment by private security guards on the grounds they were trespassing, is anybody’s guess. If it was me I’d be talking to criminal as well as employment lawyers right now. So, it is likely that every single dismissal will be found unfair, and, if related to TUPE (see below), could be automatically unfair, i.e. individuals do not need two years service to bring the claim. So every single one could be looking at a valid Tribunal claim. Statistically, successful unfair dismissal claims generally garner around 6 months pay, so this could be a large number.
But that isn’t all…
One of the funniest things I’ve read today was in the Guardian, stating that ‘if only we were still in the EU this couldn’t have happened’. Which is of course, rubbish. The Acquired Rights Directive in the form of the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations (as amended) still applies. And no political party ever hoping to get elected again will likely mess with employment protection in the UK. So, the employer has a duty to inform and consult (for a minimum of 3 months) with the affected workforce. That’s a minimum of 3 months, not 1 hour. A failure can allow a collective complaint which can garner 90 days pay per worker.
Again, a large sum.
So, on first blush, DP World (the Employer) is on a hiding to nothing. It’s not that replacing seafarers with cheaper workers is unknown, it is the cavalier manner in which it has been done.
If DP World intend to fight, then the workers can easily frustrate them. Unpaid wages can count as a debt in the Insolvency Court and the publication of a Winding Up Petition in the London Gazette will stop all banking activity dead. Dubai may float on an ocean of dodgy money, but it needs London banks to operate. And a Petition would stop that dead.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out…