The recent outrageous behaviour of P&O Ferries has certainly yet again put Employment Law in the spotlight. With nearly 800 staff being sacked without notice.
So, what did they do wrong? In the first instance there are two key requirements for this size of redundancy;
- The employees and their representatives need to be consulted in advance
- The relevant authorities need to be informed 45 days in advance of the first dismissal.
P&O’S Chief Executive has accepted that they did not consult with the unions, however he is arguing that their statutory obligation in this case was to notify the competent authority of the state the vessel is registered. P&O have registered ships in Cyprus, the Bahamas and Bermuda. Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide if P&O is liable for prosecution. Nevertheless, what is clear is that under UK law to make 20 or more staff redundant within any 90-day period an Employer must first consult and speak to any trade union representatives. In the instance above, P&O staff may be able to argue that their dismissal was unfair and make a claim.
It is relatively uncommon for an employer of this size to ignore all the procedural steps that you should contemplate before undertaking a mass redundancy process. It has been suggested that P&O ferries made their decision to forego the process to save costs and avoid lengthy consultation processes. I do question if they factored in reputational damage? There is a fear for me that some Employers may look at this and consider taking similar steps in the future. I would strongly advise any Employer not to follow this example and look at the longer-term implications such actions may have on their business.
I totally understand that a business needs to make commercial decisions, but often I have to remind my clients of the potential reputational damage to their business and for them, if they try to circumnavigate a HR process. Not all cases get the media attention that P&O ferries have had, but if an Employment Tribunal process goes all the way without settlement, then it is in the public domain for all to read. An Employer’s actions can have huge implications in the future, as the way in which you treat your people says a lot about your values and beliefs. The challenge that P&O workers now face is that they will have to wait months on average for an outcome. I really hope they find alternative employment with an Employer that treats them with the respect they deserve.