P&O Ferries will begin suspending parts of its operations as plunging passenger numbers leaves its freight business teetering on financial ruin.
In an email to all staff on Thursday 26 May P&O Ferries chief executive Janette Bell said that the ferry operator would immediately furlough its tourist operations and put non-essential support functions into hibernation.
Up to 80% of salaries of affected staff will be covered by the government. P&O will pay the remainder to ensure staff retain their basic salary for the time being, Ms Bell said.
P&O would start a 45-day consultation period involving everyone in the business in co-operation with unions to determine what happens next. A period of consultation with unions and works councils will begin immediately and will conclude by 11 May.
P&O and other ferry operators are critical to maintaining the UK's food and medical supplies.
'We are bringing in about 15% of all the goods that the country currently urgently needs. The biggest part of which is food (33%), including fresh fruit and vegetables from southern Europe and North Africa, as well as vital medicines and medical equipment,' Ms Bell said.
'In the case of the strategic supply route of Dover-Calais, we are carrying over half of all the goods that come through.'
Ms Bell told colleagues that a mix of passengers and cargo are required on P&O ships to remain profitable. 'With no passengers currently travelling, it actually costs us money to keep the ships moving.
'Fundamentally it is clear we will not be able to keep the business going without help from government.'
Nautilus members affected by the P&O announcement, or who are experiencing difficulties related to the coronavirus outbreak, are advised to contact their industrial organiser for assistance. In an emergency members can also contact the Nautilus 24/7 helpline.