Bosses from ferry companies DFDS and Stena Lines will meet government officials later today following rival P&O’s decision to sack 800 staff.
The Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed the meeting but did not say what would be discussed, although it comes amid concerns over chaos at ports during the Easter holidays.
A DfT spokesman said: “Ministers are working to understand how we can ensure the continuation of services in collaboration with other operators, including DFDS and Stena.”
Stena’s chief operating officer head of fleet management and government affairs, Ian Hampton, is understood to be attending, along with union representatives.
Hundreds of P&O workers were sacked without notice on 17 March, and replacements were hired on minimum wage in a move that angered unions, politicians, and customers of the 150-year-old shipping brand.
There were protests at ports in Dover, Liverpool, and Hull on Saturday with some demonstrators chanting: “P&O, shame on you.”
P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite had denied the company broke criminal law but on Thursday he admitted P&O broke employment law by failing to consult with unions and staff.
Study predicted £309m cost to keep P&O going during consultation
Meanwhile, the PA news agency reported that P&O Ferries conducted a study last year examining options to keep the company going.
The study calculated a cost of £309m to sustain the business for at least three months while consulting with staff over job losses.
It decided against a full staff consultation over the planned jobs cuts, with a source telling PA that a long consultation could have disrupted the business and affected customer confidence.
P&O believes that losing the 800 workers has protected the business long-term and the jobs of 2,200 other employees.
‘We needed fundamental change’ – P&O
A spokesperson for the company said: “Over 90% of seafarers affected are in discussions to progress with the severance offers.
“We are sorry to the people affected and their families for the impact it’s had on them. They’ve lost their jobs and there is anger and shock, which we completely understand.
“We needed fundamental change to make the business viable. This was an incredibly difficult decision that we wrestled with but once we knew it was the only way to save the business, we had to act.
“All other routes led to the loss of 3,000 jobs and the closure of P&O Ferries.
“In making this hard choice we have guaranteed the future viability of P&O Ferries and secured Britain’s trading capacity.
“We are committed to ensuring the continued and ongoing support for all those former and current employees affected.”
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “The campaign to get the workers back on the ships, operating these crucial ferry links safely, goes on and the company needs to face up to the hard facts and take responsibility for their grotesque actions.”