Is the mass sacking at P&O legal?

Employment Law, Redundancy, Thrive Thoughts

800 employees from P&O Ferries have been made redundant without warning over a 3-minute pre-recorded video informing them on Thursday that it would be their final day of employment. This debacle has left hundreds of people jobless, and in a state of great distress putting their mental well-being at risk. After years of loyalty to the Company, employees have been pushed aside and have been repaid by being escorted off ships in handcuffs. This is a blatant breach of employee rights which trade unions have described as ‘inhumane and unethical’. So, did P&O act within the law and what does this mean for the employees affected by this situation?


Are companies allowed to mass fire its staff?


Under the current law all employees are entitled to a consultation with their employers when being made redundant which gives employees an insight into why they are being made redundant and any alternative roles there may be available to them. The law states that redundancies of over 20 employees will give rise to the ‘Collective Consultation’ rules. It is also a legal requirement to inform the Government’s Redundancy Payment Service about the company’s planned redundancies before the company starts a collective consultation. When carrying out a collective consultation, the company is legally obliged to consult any recognised trade union or, if none, an elected employee representative. Redundancies on this scale of 800 employees means that the consultation must start at least 45 days before any dismissals take effect. As P&O have failed to follow this procedure, the employees affected may be able to bring claims against the Company for unfair dismissal. Furthermore, an additional claim for 90 days’ pay could be made for the lack of consultation. Though P&O employees have been offered enhanced redundancy payments, it is unclear as to whether employees have been provided settlement agreements which would then forgo their rights to bring any claims for the 90 days’ pay or unfair dismissal.


Why is the RMT Union calling for staff to have a ‘sit-in’ in response?


Employees affected by this travesty have taken a ‘sit-in’ approach to the news of their redundancy. The ‘sit in’ approach, is a tactic adopted by staff to prevent the new workers from boarding the vessels. Employees are protesting about manner in which P&O have dealt with the redundancies. Employees are outraged and extremely distressed by their sudden and illegal dismissal. Furthermore, employees have been made aware that they are not only being dismissed from a company for which some have worked at for years but are in fact being replaced with foreign agency workers.


Would a sit-in prevent people from losing their jobs?


It is unlikely the ‘sit in’ protest will prevent employees from losing their jobs especially if they have been dismissed already. However, their protest aims to ‘send a message’ to ruthless employers as well as the government that this treatment of workers will not be tolerated by the Trade Union Movement as they make a stand. Their protest has led to calls for the government to intervene as the mass sacking has gained significant attention from both the media and the public. The protest aims to hold P&O accountable for their actions as well as reform legal penalties applicable to employers who breach the law in this way.



Is this a fire and re-hire tactic? Are these legal?


Firing to rehire is a tactic adopted by employers which allows employees to reapply for their old jobs, on less favourable terms than before. Though this technique is not illegal, there is much controversy that surrounds it. It has been suggested by TUC and the Labour party that employment law urgently needs reforming in order to penalise employers who choose to use these tactics against their employees.


Why would a company want to use agency workers instead of full-time staff?


A company may want to use agency workers instead of full-time staff as workers have less statutory rights than employees. Agency workers are also cheaper as a company only needs to use them as and when they need them compared to employees who have guaranteed hours and would typically be contracted to work those hours. Employees have greater employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed (or be made redundant) as well as greater entitlements such as holiday pay.

How can Thrive help?

If you feel you’re struggling to retain staff or incentivise with initiatives, and you are looking for an outsourced HR partner to assist in the management of your workforce, please get in touch today at


Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions at

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