DP World boss blames UK government for P&O Ferries job losses

British ministers also failed to compensate company during pandemic, Sultan bin Sulaymen says

The Spirit of Britain leaves the Port of Dover in Kent. PA
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The head of the UAE's DP World has defended the decision to cut jobs at P&O Ferries, saying that without changes the firm would have gone bust.

Sultan bin Sulaymen also highlighted the British government’s failure to provide any financial support for the UK ferry company during the Covid-19 pandemic after viewing it as a foreign organisation.

The DP World group chairman and chief executive praised P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite, who had been criticised for his handling of 800 redundancies in March, saying he had “done an amazing job”.

Asked by CNBC at the Davos World Economic Forum if the way the redundancies was carried out was “harsh and abrupt”, Mr bin Sulaymen said that it was a move that caused “the least hurt”.

“All the people who have basically lost their jobs have been given very good compensation,” he said. “They all accepted the compensation they all signed, except for one. We made sure people were compensated well.”

It was reported that the compensation package was worth £36.5 million ($46m), with around 40 employees getting £100,000 redundancies.

P&O has received widespread criticism after it sacked 800 employees via a video message and received a letter of strong rebuke from the British government. The company denied that it broke the law when it sacked the workers without warning in March.

Sultan bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO, DP World. Antonie Robertson/The National

P&O suffered significantly during the pandemic as passenger numbers dropped dramatically and its workers were denied British government furloughs.

“The government refused to fund them,” Mr bin Sulaymen said. “We had two decisions: either shut down the company which fails and 3,000 people would have been jobless, or basically do something else which would be less painful. You can't have no pain at all."

He added: “During the time when they [British government] were helping companies during the pandemic, they refused to help us. They considered us a foreign company.”

Dubai's global ports operator DP World re-acquired P&O Ferries for £322 million ($405m) in February 2019.

DP World first acquired P&O, which included P&O Ferries, in 2006. However, it sold the ferry and shipping operator to its majority shareholder Dubai World, the emirate's holding company, before DP World went public in 2007.

P&O Ferries operates four routes: Dover to Calais; Hull to Rotterdam; Liverpool to Dublin; and Cairnryan, Scotland, to Larne, Northern Ireland.

Sailings between Hull and Zeebrugge, Belgium, were discontinued in January 2021.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 12:33 PM