The Dubai-based group that owns P&O Ferries reported record profit in the first half of the year, a period when the UK company attracted sharp criticism for sacking nearly 800 crew to save money.
DP World said profit climbed 52 per cent to $721mn in the six months to the end of June, thanks to a strong performance from its cargo business.
The results, released on Thursday, did not break out figures for P&O Ferries, which caused a political firestorm after it ordered ships back to port to sack nearly 800 UK-based crew and replace them with cheaper agency staff on March 17.
P&O replaced the sacked sailors with staff on more flexible contracts on an average of £5.50 per hour, well below the UK’s minimum wage but legal because the crew work offshore.
Frances O’Grady, head of the TUC union organisation, said DP World’s record results were “an insult to common decency”.
The government strongly criticised P&O’s actions and the Insolvency Service opened a criminal probe into the sackings of staff. But ministers were unable to force P&O to reinstate its former workers.
P&O’s management justified their actions by arguing that the company would go bust without a new business model, and that the decision, which was taken without consulting staff or unions, was the only way to save the business.
Accounts filed in the UK showed P&O Ferries lost a combined £200mn in 2020 and 2021.
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chair and chief executive of DP World, told the Financial Times in May that P&O’s management had done an “amazing job” in restructuring the UK company.
Sulayem said the decision had been taken by the P&O board without input from its Dubai parent, and the move could not be reversed.
“The decision [the P&O board] made was their decision . . . I personally feel they were caught with a choice to make . . . I told them the decision was theirs . . . and we did not interfere and tell them what to do,” he said.
DP World itself is a significant investor in the UK, including running the country’s second-biggest shipping terminal in Southampton and third-biggest in London.
The company on Thursday said it was “positive” on its “ability to continue to deliver sustainable returns”, but warned the outlook for the second half of the year was uncertain due to the weakening economic outlook.