Any port in a media storm for P&O in utter PR and HR ship-show

Any port in a media storm for P&O in utter PR and HR ship-show








As I write this, it is being reported by various media outlets that P&O has said 800 redundant staff will be offered £36.5m in total – with around 40 getting more than £100,000 each.

It has also denied that it broke the law when it sacked the workers without warning last week. Many had questioned whether the move was legal – but P&O said those affected were employed outside the UK.

Oh, that’s OK then, sod ‘em!

Now, I’m not an HR expert, (my guest contributor Donna Obstfeld is and you can read her take on this later in this article) but let’s just recap how this utter farce has played out.

It is actually painfully easy to summarise…

P&O sacked around 800 staff last week (Thursday 17th March) by video call.

Talk about finding “efficiencies”, or as Winnie The Pooh might suggest rather aptly, a “fish in the sea”.

P&O said it was a “tough” decision but it would “not be a viable business” without the changes.

However, the government described the workers’ treatment as “wholly unacceptable”, whilst the RMT union is threatening legal action, on one of the “most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations”.

Speaking of relations, let’s consider the Public Relations impact here.

Nevermind the way it was handled, I’ll come to that, just consider this, if business was not viable before, how many customers would now actually WANT to travel with this bunch if they had a choice?

Not many.

So a challenging market is now shrinking further and further, all down to how this utter ship-show was handled.

They have apparently made huge savings by switching to agency staff, however, let’s consider the huge COST they have incurred in brand damage – #boycottpando reached thousands of shares in days.

Let’s look at this pathetic approach to PR, straight out of “My First Book of Bungling” published by Lazybird.

First, the video message – this never plays out well. Remember well, this was worse!
It wasn’t even live, total cowardice.
Then the physical aspect, rumours of staff seen in handcuffs being forced from their posts.
Now add a dash of stranded customers, a soupcon of cheap labour and bring to the boil with a defiant message about viability and employees not being UK based so there.

It boggles the mind.

When politicians and unions are in agreement you know you’ve dug yourself into a very large hole. So politics and PR aside, I asked HR expert Donna Obstfeld of DOHR and author of the recently published “The Elephant in the Room: Practical solutions to 26 HR dilemmas” for her thoughts:

“It’s what I call Bananarama Syndrome. It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it. So, it is possible that the company needs to make 800 redundancies, but actually, the way they’ve gone about it is completely illegal from everything that I can see. There are ways to do it. This isn’t it.

So, when you make people redundant, the first thing you do is you put them at risk of redundancy, and then you start a consultation process. When there are the numbers of people involved that there are, then you need to consult, in this case, with the unions, because they’re a unionised organisation.

You also need to inform the government ahead of making the redundancies. It doesn’t appear that any of that consultation process or any kind of process at all, has been followed.

There were mini-buses of temporary agency staff ready to be brought onto the vessels to take over the jobs that needed doing. That actually means that the jobs aren’t redundant because the jobs still need doing.

I know everybody’s scrambling at the moment, but the fact that everybody is scrambling seems to me to indicate that there is still a lack of information, clarity and certainty. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before, where foreign business owners don’t understand the nuances of UK employment law. Although the vessels aren’t registered in the UK it is still unclear whether the staff are employed under UK employment law. The fact that the unions are involved, implies they are, but the lack of clarity still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. UK employees actually have a lot of protection against this sort of thing and can’t just be fired Alan Sugar style!”

Bananarama or banana skin, this fiasco is going to rumble on from a PR and HR perspective.

It will become a textbook example of what NOT to do. Will it blow over? Right now, there’s no port that will provide sanctuary in this storm – they are holed below the waterline and sinking fast.