Stena Line to help retailers with extra ferries
Stena Line will put on two extra ferry services from Scotland to Northern Ireland from today, the UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
He told the Commons it would be of help to some retailers including Asda and M&S.
Mr Shapps said the company had already “stepped up” following the suspension of P&O routes last week.
Up to 50 staff from Northern Ireland will be directly impacted by P&O’s move to fire 800 workers last week.
Mr Shapps said if it was confirmed that relative notice periods and consultations were not conducted before P&O staff were fired, then it would be a “a matter for criminal prosecution and unlimited fines”.
The Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has accused the firm of “ripping up the employment rule book”.
Mr Lyons said he did not believe P&O had acted within either the “spirit or letter” of employment law, a matter devolved to Northern Ireland.
Officials are investigating potential remedies for breaches of the law.
Earlier, Agriculture minister Edwin Poots had warned that about 50% of Northern Ireland’s food is exported out of Great Britain.
As P&O sailings are a key part of Northern Ireland’s retail logistics infrastructure, the matter needed to be resolved “very quickly”, NIRC’s director Aodhán Connolly said.
He said retailers had stock in large distribution centres which should last for about four or five days.
Mr Connolly said retailers were looking at alternative Irish Sea options such as using the ports of Belfast and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
On Thursday, the company fired about 800 of its workers, with about a quarter of the staff hearing the news via a pre-recorded video message.
A private security firm was sent on board the vessel in Larne, County Antrim, which remains docked at the port, to remove staff.On Monday, P&O said its services, including the crossing from Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland, would be “unable to run for the next few days”.
“For essential travel, customers are advised to seek alternatives themselves,” the firm continued.
It had been suggested at the time of the workforce announcement that it could be a week before the ferry service could resume.
The company said it would update its Twitter account regularly to inform people of the operational situation.
On Monday, Northern Ireland’s Consumer Council said that following talks with P&O, travellers affected by the disruption could re-book their crossing with Stena Line and claim expenses from P&O.
The council’s head of transport, Richard Williams, said people could also claim for additional expenditure, such as some hotel or mileage costs.
“Originally that wasn’t going to be the case but they’ve accepted that because they can’t provide the re-rerouting they normally would that people really have to book with Stena,” he said.
Mr Williams said it was common for mechanical issues to cause delays to ferry services but the P&O situation was one that was “going on and on”.
“It is certainly an unusual situation which is causing real problems for passengers,” he added.
Mr Williams said the biggest issue was the employee situation but he warned the company faced “financial repercussions” to resolve customer issues also.