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My understanding of redundancy is that it should occur only if the role is no longer required. You cannot make someone redundant and employ someone else to do the exact same role. This seems to be supported by the government website:

Redundancy is when you dismiss an employee because you no longer need anyone to do their job.

And the citizen advice website:

Signs it might not be a genuine redundancy

Sometimes an employer might say you’re being made redundant to hide the true reason for dismissing you.

Signs it might not be a genuine redundancy include:

  • your employer has recently taken on other people doing similar work

It is being reported that P+O is making all 800 seafaring staff redundant and immediately replacing them with non-union agency staff:

Dozens of employees who lost their jobs on Thursday stood on the road holding banners and flags saying "Stop the P&O jobs carve up".

It came after buses carrying agency workers hired to replace them appeared to arrive at the Kent port.

Global and European maritime unions have expressed anger at the news that P&O Ferries will move to sack its UK based seafaring workforce and outsource their jobs to non-union, agency workers.

I kind of assume this must be legal, but how?

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I'm speculating somewhat here since the events are on-going, but I imagine the approach will be is that P&O won't be hiring the agency staff themselves but instead they'll be outsourcing the crewing of the ships to a different company. Thus technically they haven't taken on any staff doing similar work.

The basic principle is the same as any redundancy where the company decides to outsource that work - you make your cleaning staff redundant because you've decided it makes more sense to hire a cleaning company to come in once a week, or your software developers are redundant because you're paying an outside agency to develop your new software etc. etc.

It's not guaranteed to mean that P&O would be in the clear if they did this - it would come down to an employment tribunal and "outsourcing" nearly your entire operational staff in one go, and in a particularly brutal fashion isn't going to look great.

Again I'm speculating here but there's likely a level of calculation in play here as to how many of the axed staff will be willing or even able to spend potentially years in court/tribunal processes vs. taking the severance package now, signing the "I won't come after P&O in the future" agreement that it's contingent on and moving on with their lives. Fighting the good fight is all well and good - but it doesn't feed your family or pay your bills in the interim.

Particularly since there's a decent chance such an action may result in a Pyrrhic victory - if legal actions from the staff / unions affected reaches too significant liability for P&O their owners can just shutter the company and walk away, P&O lost £100m or so last year and DP World only paid about £200m for it in the first place, so a last hail mary to see if they can turn an unprofitable business around and if it doesn't work no big loss.

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