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Ferry company accused of ‘ripping up the employment rule book’.

Stena Line will put on additional ferry services from Cairnryan to Northern Ireland from Tuesday, the UK Minister for Transport has confirmed.

It follows the suspension of sailings by P&O last week, which led to concerns over freight transport and the supply of goods to supermarkets and businesses in the North.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening, Grant Shapps said this would be “of particular interest to some retailers, including I think ASDA and M&S.”

Earlier on Monday the North’s Minister for the Economy said that P&O had “literally ripped up the employment rule book” and acted “disgracefully” in sacking 800 staff.

Gordon Lyons confirmed that up to 50 workers in the north will be “directly impacted” by the ferry company’s mass redundancies last week.

Addressing the Stormont Assembly chamber on Monday, the East Antrim Assembly member - whose constituency includes Larne port - said he has instructed his officials to investigate potential breaches of employment law.

He condemned reports of “men in balaclavas carrying handcuffs” escorting seafaring staff off vessels last Thursday, after they were fired through a pre-recorded video message lasting three minutes and seven seconds.

P&O cited financial difficulties for the firings, after suffering losses of £100 million each of the last two years.

The firm also denied claims its security teams were masked or ordered to use handcuffs when escorting crews off ships.

Mr Lyons said that while he has “some sympathy” for companies in “challenging times”, it “does not mean that they can just break the law”.

And he accused the ferry operator’s offer of “enhanced payments” as a “bribe”.

“At the outset let me be clear; neither I, as a constituency representative in East Antrim or as Minister of the Economy, nor my officials in the department, were afforded the courtesy of advanced notice of the P&O announcement,” Mr Lyons said.

“I regard their actions as disgraceful. P&O has literally ripped up the employment rule book, and, in the process, simply discarded 800 of their loyal and most diligent workforce.

“Even now, I can scarcely believe how callously they behaved. The stories I heard of staff being escorted off ships, by men in balaclavas, carrying handcuffs, was as sinister as it was outrageous.

“Deploying such a tactic here, in Northern Ireland, to an unsuspecting workforce is so ill-judged and shocking, our condemnation alone is simply not enough.”

In a tweet on Monday, P&O said that ferries between Larne in Co Antrim and Cairnryan in Scotland remain suspended and that it had not been able to arrange alternative travel for the route.

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