Employment Lawyers Advise P&O Ferry Workers to Accept Settlement Agreements With Caution

March 2022

 

Staff have ‘every right’ to challenge ferry operator over way job losses were managed

As news of the difficulties faced by P&O unfolds, many people have been led to believe that the ferry travel giant has ‘done right’ by its staff with a multi-million-pound compensation package being distributed amongst its employees.

However, employment lawyers say that while the pay-out is no doubt welcome, it doesn’t change the fact that the company failed in its duty to consult with staff over the job losses, and that the ex-employees should be careful of any Settlement Agreements that may prevent them taking further action.

Anita North from Simpson Millar, who provides advice solely to employees, explains: “The latest news suggests that P&O Ferries is offering over £36 million in compensation to sacked staff, with pay-outs linked to the period of service, and which in some cases will exceed £170,000.

“While the compensation will no doubt be welcome, that shouldn’t mean that a business can simply let their staff go without proper consultation over the redundancies. The two things are totally unrelated.”

Anita went on to say that when offered a Settlement Agreement, it is a requirement that an employee takes independent legal advice before signing on the dotted line.

“The rules are there to protect the employee,” Anita adds. “For a settlement agreement to be valid it must be provided in writing, it must cover the specific dispute the employee is having, and it must set out what the employee and employer agree to do.

“At that stage, the employee must have legal advice from an independent lawyer. Usually, the employer will pay for this so that it isn’t a burden on the employee.

“The advice must be from a qualified lawyer, a trade union representative or an advice worker who is authorised to advise on settlement agreements (such as from Citizens Advice).

“While in many cases that would draw a line under the matter, this case is different given the potential for legal action over the way the redundancies were managed. Staff who want to take further action will want to make sure that no settlement agreement stops them from doing that.

“The message here is make sure you get good legal advice, and make sure the settlement agreement works in your best interests.”

Last week, Simpson Millar called on the Government to ‘bare its teeth’ when holding British businesses accountable over a failure to protect employees.

Anita said: “P&O is the latest big business to announce redundancies with immediate effect, and while the details and specifics are yet to be made public the consequences for its employees will no doubt be devastating.

“By law, where an employer decides to make at least 20 employees redundant at a location within a 90 day period, it must consult with the affected employees, via employee representatives.

“The consultation must be meaningful, in that the employer must give sufficient information to the affected employees, enabling them to express their views and put forward ideas to avoid or otherwise limit the redundancies.

“In cases where over 100 redundancies are proposed, the period of consultation must last at least 45 days before any dismissals take place and should be undertaken by the employer with a view to seeking agreement with the employee representatives.

“However, over the last year or so we have seen dozens of companies collapse into administration, giving their staff barely, if any, notice of what’s about to happen. In cases such as that they have fundamentally failed in their duty to consult.

“While many employees will be very grateful that they can go on to claim for a Protective Award, they also no doubt want to know what is being done to hold these businesses to account over their blatant disregard of the law.

“Instead of simply picking up the pieces when the damage has been done, the Government needs to do more to bare its teeth when it comes to punishing major, previously profitable businesses who have failed to protect their employees.”

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