Sacked Larne P&O ferry workers protest cuts - 'you wouldn't treat animals like this’

  • Video: Sacked workers talk to UTV about their ordeal

Sacked P&O Ferries workers at Larne Port have been speaking out about their ordeal as they stage a protest over being replaced at no notice by agency roles.

The Larne to Cairnryan ferry crews were among 800 staff who 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.

Stunned workers in Larne were then reportedly escorted off their vessel by security wearing balaclavas.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, P&O ferries denied that any security staff were wearing balaclavas. They further said that security were not directed to use handcuffs or force.

Trade unions have called for widespread support at docks around the UK, with protests held at Larne, Dover, Liverpool and Hull.

It comes after Hull P&O crew launched a sit-in on the Pride of Hull on Thursday, in a protest over their treatment.

Those in Larne say they had not even heard anything directly from P&O Ferries and that the first they knew about what was happened was when the outside security company boarded the boat.

One of the protestors, Daniel McDonald, told UTV News: “Nobody from P&O could even come on board, they send an outside department to come on board to tell us they’re speaking on behalf of P&O – with 20 guards standing behind them.

“We all felt intimidated. The captain said at one stage ‘Is there any need for these guys to be standing behind these guys?’

“I think you wouldn’t even treat animals like this.”

Some crew members are said to have been left stranded and struggling getting home.

“It’s like a bad dream. But you wake up now and that’s 17 years, 20 years, 30 years of your life has been taken away in one day.” Mr McDonald added.

The sacked workers have also called for action by the government, expressing fears that if they are allowed to be treated this way, it will open the floodgates for other companies to do the same.

  • Why did this happen?

P&O blamed the sacking of 800 workers on losses of £100 million following a slump in travel because of the pandemic. It told the workers they would receive generous redundancies packages.

  • Which services are affected?

The firm said early on Friday all its ferries are "unable to run for the next few days", with services impacted including Larne to Cairnryan, Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, and Liverpool to Dublin.

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

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

He said: "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.

  • Does that mean I cannot travel?

Not necessarily. P&O said despite its ferries being unavailable, "where possible we are organising travel via an alternative operator".

"Space is very limited so we suggest if your journey is not essential, please do not travel today," the company added.

Travellers at the ports of Dover and Calais were instructed by P&O to make their way to the check-in booths for Danish firm DFDS. There were no such instructions for those at Hull, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Dublin, Cairnryan or Larne.

A P&O ferry is halted in Larne on Thursday morning as all services were suspended. Credit: Pacemaker

  • Are there implications for freight?

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon Lyons noted more than half of the nation's freight moves through Larne port, with the MLA adding the move "will also cause supply problems for companies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland, as well as those firms based here who sell to GB".

His Stormont colleague Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon called on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to "take every possible step to save jobs and to maintain connectivity for passengers and freight on Irish Sea routes".

What are my rights as a passenger?

Travel trade organisation Abta says customers should be informed as soon as possible when an operator expects a departure to be cancelled. If this is on the day of travel, you should be informed no later than 30 minutes after your scheduled time of departure.

Free snacks, meals and refreshments should be provided if your ferry is expected to be cancelled, Abta advises, but this need only take place if meals are available or can be reasonably supplied.

Abta says a ferry operator should offer the choice of an alternative or a refund if a service is cancelled and the operator should offer free accommodation if an overnight stay becomes necessary because of the cancellation.

Accommodation may be provided on board the ferry or ashore, while the ferry operator is also free to look at other options including asking the passenger to go home or make their own arrangements and be reimbursed for the expenses.

The ferry operator may limit accommodation costs to £66 per night per passenger for a maximum of three nights, Abta says.

  • What does P&O say?

The company's terms and conditions on delayed or cancelled sailings state: "We will seek to provide you, your luggage and vehicle with the journey as booked although ferries, sailing times/dates and destinations may be affected by weather conditions, port closures, industrial disputes or changed by other operational requirements."

"If your departure is delayed and your journey will no longer serve any purpose, having regard to your original travel plan, a refund of the full ticket price shall be considered upon submission of reasonable supporting evidence," the conditions add.

  • What compensation is available?

Abta advises travellers are entitled to compensation of 25% of their ticket price, for that part of the affected journey.

It applies if your service is delayed for at least one hour for a journey of duration four hours, two hours for a journey of duration between four and eight hours, three hours for a journey of duration between eight and 24 hours or six hours for a journey of duration of over 24 hours.

UTV's Sara O'Kane speaks to protestors at Larne Port Credit: Presseye