P&O Ferries dominated the news last Thursday when 800 British crew members were sacked via a prerecorded video message and replaced by cheaper agency workers.
Many questions are being asked surrounding the legality of this mass sacking and what actions dismissed employees can take against the company.
1. Fire and Rehire
Dismissal and reengagement (or as it's more informally known, 'fire and rehire') is the process of terminating employees’ contracts and re-engaging them on new, often worse, terms and pay. This controversial tactic has been around for decades but has become more widespread since the pandemic with companies like Tesco, British Airways and British Gas making use of the practice.
The P&O scandal comes just 5 months after a bill which would have banned the practice of firing and rehiring was rejected by the UK government. Fire and Rehire is therefore not an illegal practice but should be used as a last resort to prevent employees being made redundant or firms from going out of business.
It is not yet clear if P&O's actions come under fire and rehire as rather than rehiring staff to their old jobs, P&O has replaced them with agency workers and to get their jobs back, sacked staff would have to join those agencies.
2. Planning and Preparing for Redundancy
Employees at risk of being made redundant should be made aware at the earliest opportunity in writing that they are at risk of dismissal by reason of redundancy.
Appropriate communication channels are required to reduce the emotional distress of individuals being made redundant and prevent losing the trust of remaining employees.
News of redundancies at P&O was not delivered in an appropriate or sensitive matter as employees were told via a prerecorded video of a man they did not recognise that they were being made redundant with immediate effect. This was a highly sensitive issue and has left many employees distraught. News of redundancy should be made directly to the affected employees and should not be heard through informal channels such as through the grapevine, on social media or via local news.
3. Consultation Period
Employers should always consult with employees before making them redundant. The nature of the consultations will depend on numbers, negotiated agreements, contracts of employment and the relevant statute, specifically, the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act. This can be individually, a collective group and through elected representatives. Another factor to consider is the length of time consultations should take.
For 20 or more redundancies, employers must inform the executive of their intention to do so on a form called an “HR1 form”.
In Northern Ireland, if over 100 employees are being made redundant, the consultation period should take place at least 90 days before the redundancies are due to begin.
Employees at P&O Ferries received no consultation and news of the redundancy came without any warning. P&O should have consulted with unions and staff about potential dismissals and notified the government that hundreds of jobs were at risk.
4. Redundancy Notice Periods
Employees who have been selected for redundancy must receive at minimum the statutory notice period before their employment ends.
The statutory redundancy notice periods are:
at least one week’s notice if you have been employed between one month and two years
one week’s notice for each year if employed between two and 12 years
12 weeks’ notice if employed for 12 years or more
Employees at P&O did not receive any notice period and many news articles have reported that security with handcuffs were waiting in Dover and Larne to remove dismissed crew members after unions instructed crew not to leave vessels. Coaches carrying replacement agency staff were also reported to be standing by at Dover and Hull.
5. Public Reactions to Unethical Practice
Unsurprisingly, the actions of P&O Ferries have been heavily criticised by politicians, employees, unions and the general public with many calling P&O insensitive, cruel and a vicious example of despotic employer behaviour. Protests were also held at P&O's ports throughout the UK including; Dover, Liverpool, Hull and Larne.
P&O Ferries has lost public trust and it will be interesting to see the impact this will have on the company's future sales as consumer behaviour is changing and many consumers would leave a business which was seen to put profit ahead of people.
Copacetic Business Solutions offers HR & Employment Law Consultancy Services throughout the UK and Ireland.
It is always advised to seek professional advice before dismissing an employee. Contact a member of Copacetic Business Solutions here: https://www.copaceticbusinesssolutions.co.uk/contact or call 07772 977023 for advice on the correct redundancy procedure.