A former P&O Ferries chef is taking the company to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal, racial discrimination and harassment.
John Lansdown, who has worked at P&O for more than 20 years, was one of 800 workers who were dismissed without notice last month. The company has instead brought in crew from overseas, who will be paid below the UK minimum wage.
The Insolvency Service is conducting a criminal and civil investigation into the sackings.
In his tribunal claim, which was seen by the BBC, Lansdown accuses the ferry operator of treating him unfavourably as he is British and eligible for the national living wage.
He alleges that the redundancy was a “sham” as his job was still needed and no fair selection process had taken place.
He is seeking compensation for himself along with damages of up to £76m, which he said he would use to create a new trust that would campaign for improved wages and protections for seafarers, and to push to outlaw “fire and rehire” practices in the UK.
P&O Ferries case
“This is not just about me,” Lansdown told the BBC. “799 of my seafaring family have lost their livelihoods, their way of life, their homes for half the year and it’s about the bigger picture.”
He claimed that he was working on The Pride of Canterbury ship and had to leave his belongings behind when he was “notified out of the blue, and without any prior consultation” about his redundancy.
He said security staff carrying handcuffs and wearing balaclavas embarked the ship to remove workers who refused to leave.
His legal papers state: “I was devastated by the brutal summary dismissal after many years of loyal and diligent service. The manner of the dismissal was harassing.”
His claim accuses the company of “violating his dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating environment”.
P&O Ferries has been contacted for a response, but told the BBC that no staff involved in the redundancies wore balaclavas, nor were they directed to use handcuffs or force.
“Staff remained professional, sympathetic and calm in a challenging situation for everyone, trying to ensure the safety of all the people on board the ships. There was no harassment,” it said in a statement.
P&O Ferries has previously said that all 800 staff made redundant would be offered £36.5m compensation in total, with around 40 receiving more than £100,000 each. Lansdown is thought to be the only former employee to waive his pay out and take legal action against the firm.
Last week P&O was given a final opportunity to reinstate the workers, but CEO Peter Hebblethwaite stated that this would cause the company’s collapse.