P&O sackings 'appalling' says Sunak as GMB claims replacement staff face poverty pay

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has described the sacking of 800 workers by P&O as "awful" and "wrong".

He told BBC One's Sunday Morning programme: "What we're seeing is appalling and the way that they've treated their workers is awful, it's wrong.

"What I can tell you is across Government we're examining not just those actions and whether they complied with the regulations as they should have done, but also our own relationship with the company, and the Transport Secretary (Grant Shapps) is in the process of reviewing all our commercial relationship with P&O at the moment."

The chancellor called the sackings 'appalling' but it's claimed ministers, including Grant Shapps, knew they were coming Credit: PA

But according to the Sunday Times, government ministers knew about P&O Ferries’ plan to slash 800 jobs before staff were informed but were told by officials it would ensure the firm remained “a key player in the UK market for years to come”.

The newspaper said it received a leaked memo apparently written by a senior Whitehall official which tried to “justify” the mass redundancies, stating that “without these decisions, an estimated 2,200 staff would likely lose their jobs”.

The memo, which is claimed to have been sent before 800 P&O staff were told of their jobs being lost on Thursday, adds the changes “will align them with other companies in the market who have undertaken a large reduction in staff previously”.

The newspaper said it was “widely shared across government” and recipients included the Prime Minister’s private office while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is understood to have received a copy.

P&O have suspended services in Dover with passengers using alternative providers

It comes after Mr Shapps openly criticised P&O’s handling of the sacking of the seafarers and replacing them with cheaper agency staff, stating he had written to P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite questioning the legality of the move.

Mr Shapps has also ordered a review of all the government contracts with both P&O Ferries and its parent company, DP World, and stated that vessels will be subject to inspections and new crews would be checked before being allowed to set sail.

Daren Ireland, a spokesman for the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “[In the memo] The DFT seem to be warming to the employers’ argument, but they’re failing to take into account the £270 million worth of dividends paid out by DP World.

“So [they’re] clearly failing to step up to the plate of protecting the jobs of ratings within the UK maritime industry.”

Protestors in Dover on Friday

Meanwhile, the RMT union claims new crew on P&O ships will be paid at rates well below the minimum wage, amid continued anger over the sackings.

They claim to have discovered another “shocking twist” to the scandal because replacement crews on P&O ships will be on “poverty pay”.

The RMT said P&O ships on the Liverpool-Dublin route have now been crewed with Filipino ratings on contracts which pay below the minimum wage.

Shipping companies which are registered in other countries and operating routes from UK ports to Europe can pay below the minimum wage because they are exempt from legislation.

Protesters in Dover on Friday

More demonstrations will be held in the next few days, with growing pressure on the company to reverse its decision and the Government to take action.

On Friday, hundreds of people gathered in Dover to protest against the company, which is owned by Dubai-based DP World.

Passengers at Dover were being told to arrive as booked but that they will be put on services by alternative carriers.

However, in frequent posts on Twitter, the company says its sailings are unable to run for the next few days.