Ex-P&O Ferries chief sues company for £76million over ‘harassing’ dismissal


A chief who was suddenly sacked by P&O Ferries is said to have sued the company and its chief executive for £76million. John Lansdown, 39, joined P&O Ferries as a 16-year-old trainee before progressing to sous-chef on The Pride of Canterbury, but was one of 800 staff to be let go without notice last month, according to The Mirror.

Mr Lansdown, from Herne Bay in Kent, is the only seafarer to take legal action against P&O, alleging unfair dismissal, racial discrimination and harassment. He alleges racial discrimination due to his replacement by a non-British crew paid around £5.50 an hour less than minimum wage, believing his nationality interfered in the decision to dismiss him.

In the claim against P&O Ferries and chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite in South London Employment Tribunal, Mr Lansdown is seeking six-figure compensation for loss of income and injury to feelings. The £76m figure is aimed at the large profits made by P&O’s parent company, Dubai Ports World (DP World), in a bid to ‘deter’ either company from pursuing a policy of ” fire and hire” in the future.

Mr Lansdown’s legal document states: ‘I was devastated by the brutal summary dismissal after many years of loyal and diligent service. The manner of the dismissal was harassing.’ He also claims that on board the Pride of Canterbury he had to leave his belongings when he was informed “out of the blue and without any prior consultation” of his dismissal. He alleges hired private security guards wore balaclavas and carried handcuffs to evacuate workers who refused to disembark ferries.

P&O has confirmed that Mr Lansdown is the only former staff member not to accept his settlement offer, adding that the payments were linked to length of service totaling £36.5million in what would be the ‘largest UK Maritime Industry Compensation Scheme”. Mr Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs that the decision to lay off 800 seafarers without notice in March broke the law, but said he would make the same decision again if necessary. The Insolvency Service launched criminal and civil investigations into the collective dismissals.

In a statement responding to Mr Lansdown’s claim, a P&O Ferries spokesperson said: ‘None of the staff involved in the redundancies wore balaclavas or were instructed to use handcuffs or strength. The staff remained professional, friendly and calm in a difficult situation for everyone, trying to ensure the safety of everyone on board the vessels. There was no harassment.

“P&O Ferries’ decision to dismiss seafarers was categorically not based on the race or nationality of the personnel involved. We apologize to those affected and their families for the impact this has had on them, as well only to the 2,200 people who work for P&O and we will have asked a lot of tough questions about it.

“We made this difficult decision as a last resort and only after careful consideration of all other options, but ultimately concluded that the business would not survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which would inevitably lead to layoffs.

“We have offered improved termination terms to those affected to properly and promptly compensate them for the lack of warning and consultation – all staff offered these terms, with the exception of Mr Lansdown, have accepted this offer. The business was losing £100m a year and no shareholder would be able to continue funding this year on year P&O Ferries needed a fundamental change to make it viable – we knew this decision was the only way to save the company.

Speaking to The Mirror, Mr Lansdown said: “The actions of P&O Ferries have upended the lives of 800 loyal and dedicated seafarers and their families. Their grotesque disregard for due process in this country will set a dangerous precedent if it is allowed to continue.

“The court complaint I have filed seeks to bring Peter Hebblethwaite and the officials of P&O Ferries to justice and hold them accountable for their unlawful action.”

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