P&O must change course or its reputation will suffer a ‘hard blow’, minister warns

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P&O’s reputation and commercial viability will take a “big hit” if the ferry company does not change course after the layoff of 800 workers, Stormont’s economy minister has warned.

Gordon Lyons, whose constituency includes the Port of Larne, told the Assembly he had instructed his officials to investigate potential employment law breaches after last week’s announcement.

Meanwhile, P&O said on Monday that ferries between Larne in County Antrim and Cairnryan in Scotland remained suspended.

A tweet said services were “unable to operate for the next few days” and he was unable to arrange alternative travel for the itinerary.

Mr Lyons informed Stormont Assembly of the controversy, which he described as ‘shameful’.

He said, “To begin, let me be clear; neither I, as Constituency Representative in East Antrim or as Minister for the Economy, nor my Ministry officials had the courtesy to be notified of P&O’s announcement.

“I view their actions as shameful. P&O literally tore up the employment rule book and in the process simply scrapped 800 of its most loyal and diligent employees.

“Even now, I can hardly believe how insensitive they behaved.”

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons briefed the Assembly on the P&O controversy (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Lyons said he understood up to 50 employees in Northern Ireland were directly affected.

He added: “The stories I heard of personnel being escorted off ships, by men in balaclavas, wearing handcuffs, were as sinister as they were outrageous.

“To deploy such a tactic here in Northern Ireland to an unsuspecting workforce is so misguided and shocking that our condemnation alone is simply not enough.”

He told the Assembly that employment law is a delegated responsibility within Stormont.

He added: ‘I don’t think P&O acted in the spirit or in the letter of our employment law.

“Even now, at this late stage, I would encourage them to come to the table and discuss it with us.

“Earlier today, I met with our own labor relations agency.

“They are ready and willing to meet P&O immediately to see how they can turn around a terrible situation.

“It must be in P&O’s interest to get involved, because let’s be clear: their reputation, not to mention their future commercial viability, could take a big hit here if they don’t change course. .

“They may want to hide behind the fine print of maritime law that could, in their eyes, justify what they have done. But the court of public opinion will not be so sympathetic.

“As for the future, not only are we ready, through the Workplace Relations Agency, to intervene, but if P&O fails to accept this offer locally, I have already asked my officials to investigate any remedies we may have for any violation of our delegated labor law.

Comments by Conor Murphy
Northern Ireland Finance Minister Conor Murphy raised the issue of P&Os during a meeting with Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke (Peter Morrison/PA)

Meanwhile, Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy raised the issue during a meeting with Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke on Monday.

He said: ‘I took the opportunity at the end of the meeting to raise with him the treatment of workers by the P&O ferry company and to press the government on what action it can take both to support these workers but also to examine the actions of the company.

“He agreed with me on the unfair treatment of workers.

“I intend to get back to him on the measures being considered by the UK government in the future.”

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