“In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business. We have made a £100 million ($130 million) loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World,” a spokesperson told CNN Business in a statement.
“This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now,” the spokesperson added.
The company said it would provide “enhanced compensation packages” to fired staffers. It said that services would be suspended over the next few days and passengers would be rebooked with other carriers.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a tweet that he was “very concerned” about the impact on workers.
P&O told crew on Thursday to disembark passengers and remove cargo from their vessels, according to a note to staff shared by UK lawmaker Karl Turner on Twitter.
RMT, a labor union representing transport workers, had speculated before Thursday’s announcement that hundreds of its members would be replaced by foreign workers — and instructed them to stay on board.
Turner, who represents the city of Hull in northern England, said that an RMT officer on board ship The Pride of Hull told him that at least 72 crew members were refusing to disembark. Turner said he had visited the King George Dock, where the ship is located, and saw two buses of agency workers waiting to board as well as two minibuses of security guards.
Mark Dickinson, the general secretary for Nautilus International, a union representing maritime workers, called the firings a “betrayal of British workers.”
Susannah Streeter, a senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the way the company fired workers was unlikely to help it win customers.
“This could fast turn into a severe reputational headache for the company, with a big union fight looming ahead,” Streeter said.
UK trade has been hit by the pandemic and the country’s exit from the European Union. Goods trade with the rest of the world had recovered to 7% below 2019 levels by August last year, while trade with the European Union was still down 15%, the Office for Budget Responsibility said in October.