Ferry Firings Fuel Furor

Thom Weidlich 03.24.22


A U.K. ferry company is at the center of a self-induced crisis after it axed 800 workers via video message and said it would replace them with cheaper labor from a staffing outfit. The company’s communication has been as lacking as its behavior has been appalling.

On March 17, P&O Ferries, owned by Dubai logistics giant DP World, temporarily suspended operations, leaving customers stranded. It was reportedly a human-resources person who notified workers by video that they were fired — memories from last year of mortgage company Better.com’s CEO sacking hundreds of people on a Zoom call. (Quick tip: Learn from other people’s crises.)

Seafarers who refused to leave their posts were forcibly removed. The maritime union said the replacement workers are making as little as $2.38 an hour.

PR Nightmare

Obviously, the crisis has become a PR nightmare for the company and is hurting its reputation. Between March 14 and March 20 in YouGov’s BrandIndex, P&O Ferries fell 18 points. The company needs to communicate what it’s going to do to change course, but it’s not communicating very much at all. There have been protests and calls for boycotts.

U.K. officials, including the prime minister, have said that the company may have broken the law with the firings and that they will review its contracts with the government. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury was miffed. “P&O’s decision to sack 800 workers, without warning or consultation, is inhumane and unethical,” he tweeted.

As far as we can tell, P&O Ferries has said little to defend itself. The only mention on its website is a cryptic pop-up message warning of “significant disruption” in services. Some media outlets quoted a leaked memo to employees from March 17 in which the CEO said the company wanted to cut crew costs in half, including by using staff from a third-party crewing company.

Bad Behavior

P&O Ferries obviously has been hit by the COVID-19 travel standstill and supply-chain problems. But that doesn’t excuse the bad behavior.

It’s also an instance of a crisis spreading like wildfire so that others have to deal with it. P&O Cruises, which shares a history with P&O Ferries but is owned by Carnival Corp., had to note that non-relationship on its website. “Our thoughts go out to all those affected,” it said. “However, please be assured it’s business as usual on our cruises and our crew look forward to welcoming you on board soon.”

Photo Credit: P&O Ferries

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