MP alleges P&O offering 'third world wages' as Larne ferry staff sacked and Belfast route announced

A P&O ferry halted in Larne.
P&O seafarers at Larne were told they had lost their jobs. Credit: Pacemaker

Larne ferries will be redirected to Belfast for a week after P&O ferry staff working the Northern Ireland to Scotland crossing were sacked.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson outlined the plan as he criticised P&O Ferries' owner, claiming the company was offering 'third world wages' for replacement workers.

The seafarers were told their jobs had been cut with immediate effect, before they were escorted off the boat by security yesterday.

The company is replacing workers' jobs with agency roles, which they have been told they can reapply for.

The Larne to Cairnryan ferry crews were among 800 staff across P&O Ferries lost their jobs on Thursday, after the company suddenly suspended sailings.

Passengers were turned away from docks around the UK, with sailings delayed and cancelled.

Protests at Larne Port were planned to begin at noon on Friday, with trade unions urging demonstrators to show their support.

Workers sacked in a Teams video call were told "your final day of employment is today," before the company promised them a "generous" severance package.

The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.

The decision affected staff across the UK and Ireland, where the ferry company runs services including Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, and Liverpool to Dublin.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said it was seeking legal advice to challenge the move, as sacked Hull P&O workers staged a sit-in.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson at Larne Port Credit: David Young/PA

Mr Wilson announced the plan for the Larne route on Twitter, after MLAs raised concerns about the job cuts and future of the route.

He wrote: "Have spoken to the Chief Executive of P&O. Expressed my concern at the way staff were treated & have been assured that they will be compensated for late notice of termination. "No staff at Larne Port impacted & P&O have promised a future investment in the Port.

"Despite operating purely between UK Ports, P&O will now pay staff third world wages. This raises serious concerns about the company’s morality.

He continued: "No ships will operate from Larne for one week until new staff are inducted.

"Ships and passengers will be redirected to Belfast Port. They will not have the capacity to sufficiently ramp up operations to cope with demand. "With over 50% of NI freight coming through Larne Port, this will also have a knock on effect for local businesses."

P&O Ferries said the Larne-Cairnryan services are currently cancelled, in a tweet updating passengers.

It continued: "Where possible we are organising travel via an alternative operator. Space is very limited so we would suggest if your journey is not essential, please do not travel today. We apologise for the inconvenience."

The company said of the job cuts in a statement on Thursday: “We have made a £100 million loss year-on-year, which has been covered by our parent, DP World. This is not sustainable.

“Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now. Without these changes there is no future for P&O Ferries.”

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim says the Council is seeking urgent discussions with P&O.

Councillor William McCaughey said he was deeply shocked by Thursday’s news, adding that council officers are on-hand to support affected staff.

The Mayor said: “Like many, I was stunned by P&O’s announcement and the immediacy of it.

“My thoughts, first and foremost, are with the workers whose lives have been turned upside down. This Council stands firmly with them and we will do everything we can to help, advise and signpost them to vital assistance.

“We are planning to speak with P&O senior management in the incoming days regarding this situation and to understand the firm’s immediate plans. P&O provides a vital service within our borough and across Northern Ireland, and we will continue to work closely with them in the days and weeks ahead.

“While we welcome assurances that no staff at the Port of Larne will lose their jobs, we must also ensure that this vital gateway and the supply routes into and out of Northern Ireland are protected, and that the impact on our local businesses is minimal."

  • HELPLINE: Affected workers can call the Labour Relations Agency on 033 00 555 300. Advisers will be available to give information and advice.