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British ferry operator faces deadline to explain mass firing

LONDON (AP) – A United Kingdom (UK) ferry operator owned by the government of Dubai faces a deadline to explain why it fired 800 workers without notice, while British authorities say they may seek criminal penalties if the company is found to have acted illegally.

P&O Ferries fired the crew members over a Zoom call last week and then sent security teams onto ships to evict workers, touching off protests at ports around the UK Unions allege their members have been replaced by foreign workers who were hired through a third-party agency and are being paid USD2.38 an hour.

The British government has notified P&O that the company appears to have violated rules requiring employers to consult with unions and notify authorities before laying off large numbers of workers. The government wants to know why the company believes the rules don’t apply to P&O.

“It’s important that we get the exact detail … and we need to collect it in one place, because there are criminal sanctions involved in this, including an unlimited fine,” Business Minister Paul Scully, who is responsible for labour issues, told Sky News.

British law requires employers to consult with labour unions and pay the legal minimum wage, now GBP8.91 (USD11.75) an hour for workers 23 and older. But maritime companies that sail in international waters can avoid these rules by registering their ships in other countries.

P&O Ferries serves ports in the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands. It’s owned by worldwide logistics company DP World, a unit of government-owned Dubai World.

People protest in solidarity with 800 P&O Ferries workers fired last week, opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London. PHOTO: AP