Ferry operator P&O has been criticised for announcing 1,100 job cuts after taking advantage of the government’s furlough scheme.
The RMT and Dover’s mayor said P&O had announced the cuts after receiving taxpayer support in a move that would hit workers and the local economy.
In the Commons, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he agreed with Natalie Elphicke, Dover MP, who said companies “cannot simply rely on taxpayer handouts”.
P&O has declined to comment further.
At the start of the pandemic, the cross-Channel ferry operator furloughed 1,400 workers.
‘Devastating’ for workers
P&O Ferries is now working towards making 614 staff on the Dover to Calais line redundant, with a further 122 job losses on the lines between Hull and Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. The remainder are officers and shore-side staff on the same routes.
After redundancies were announced, Dover mayor Gordon Cowan said the firm had received millions in government funding, adding: “It’s disappointing because the town will definitely suffer from these job losses, and devastating for the people who work on the ferries.”
Darren Procter, RMT national secretary, said: “I’d say it was appalling because the government is putting a support mechanism for critical supply routes, of which obviously Dover-Calais is one of them, and the company actively welcomed the support.”
In the Commons, Mrs Elphicke said P&O’s Dubai owners “failed to provide the support that the company needs”.
She said: “Does the Chancellor agree with me the companies and their investors like Dubai cannot simply rely on taxpayer handouts but need to play their full part?”
Mr Sunak replied: “Everyone has to play their role and that means employers and companies as well doing their bit to support and protect their staff to the best of their ability.”
While P&O did not comment further, it said this month its principal shareholder DP World had invested hundreds of millions in British ports and infrastructure.
It was reported in April P&O had asked the UK government for £150m.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had announced a package last month to help ensure critical goods could continue to move freely, and further details would be confirmed in due course.
The DfT also said it recognised the challenges, and encouraged all firms to make use of further changes to business support announced last month by the Chancellor.
It said it would continue to engage directly with maritime companies and associations to help tackle the challenges they faced.
The Port of Dover declined to comment on how the move would affect its operation.
As the UK faced the early stages of the pandemic, Dover Harbour Board said goods would be kept moving through the port, which handles £122bn of trade and 17% of the country’s goods trades.