RSS Feed

Legal Updates

More Articles: Latest Popular Archives

What are the consequences if P&O’s brutal mass sackings were illegal?

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

On Thursday morning, news broke that P&O Ferries (P&O) had taken the decision to terminate the employment of 800 staff members with immediate effect. While the story has already attracted national media attention, it is important to understand the potential legal implications behind the decision, which has attracted heavy criticism.

The law on collective redundancy rules mean that an employer proposing to make 20 or more staff redundant within 90 days or less in one establishment must consult on its proposal before any dismissals take effect. In cases such as this where an employer is proposing to make 100 or more redundancies within 90 days, consultation must begin at least 45 days before the first dismissal takes effect.

Additionally, the employer must notify the Secretary of State in writing of the proposed redundancies before it gives notice to the affected members of staff that their contracts will be terminated. A failure to notify the Secretary of State beforehand is a criminal offence for which both P&O and its directors can be prosecuted and could result in an unlimited fine.

UK law sets out a strict consultation process which should be followed prior to any redundancies. The employer must provide certain information to the appropriate representatives of the affected staff members, such as a trade union. This information includes but is not limited to: the reasons for the proposed dismissals; the numbers and descriptions of employees whom it is proposed to dismiss as redundant; and the proposed method of carrying out the dismissals, with proper regard to any agreed procedure, including the period over which the dismissals are to take effect.

If P&O have failed to properly consult staff, the consequences are wide ranging. First, an employment tribunal could grant a protective award for up to 90 days’ gross pay per staff member. Second, P&O could be met with claims of unfair dismissal from staff with over two years’ service which if successful, would entitle them to receive compensation. Additionally, the recognised trade unions (such as RMT and Nautilus International) can claim against P&O for their failure to inform and consult. Finally, if P&O failed to properly notify the Secretary of State, they could be held criminally liable and face an unlimited fine.

Receive more HR related news and content with our monthly Enewsletter (Ebrief)