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No criminal action against P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries

The Insolvency Service has confirmed that there will be no criminal action against P&O Ferries for mass redundancies as the criminal investigation concluded that there was “no realistic prospect of conviction”.


In March 2022, P&O Ferries sacked almost 800 workers via video message, without any prior consultation with these workers or their trade unions. The majority of the workers who were dismissed were crew members on flexible contracts.

The company then replaced these workers with staff who were paid an average of £5.50 per hour, which it justified by the fact that the staff worked offshore and therefore were not subject to the UK’s minimum wage.

The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, called for the CEO’s dismissal after he admitted a few weeks later that the company’s dismissal approach had broken UK employment law. The obligations that P&O Ferries was alleged to have breached were:

  • An employer has to give 45 days’ notice to the relevant authorities when planning to make significant redundancies; and
  • An employer must consult the workforce, either directly or through the unions.

Insolvency Service – Criminal or Civil Offences

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary at the time, asked the Insolvency Service to investigate whether any criminal or civil offences had been committed.

On 19 August 2022, a spokesperson for the Insolvency Service said that “After a full and robust criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the employees who were made redundant by P&O Ferries, we have concluded that we will not commence criminal proceedings”.

Several MPs and trade union members have spoken against this decision, including the shadow employment rights minister Justin Madders who said that “Tory ministers… have broken the promises they made after P&O’s outrageous behaviour and instead changed the law to open the door for others to follow in their wake”.

The civil investigation is still ongoing.

What does this mean in practice?

Although it is a criminal offence in the UK if a company fails to notify the Insolvency Service of its plan to implement collective redundancies, this penalty does not apply to maritime workers where the ships are registered outside of the UK. We await to see the results of the civil investigation.

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