nion representatives are set to brief a Stormont committee on its plans to launch a legal challenge against ferry giant P&O after it sacked 800 workers.
Ulster Unionist Mike Nesbitt said unions will be given the opportunity to “vent their anger” against the “Orwellian” treatment of P&O workers.
Mr Nesbitt also said Stormont does not have the legislative power to compel senior management at P&O to appear before a committee before the Assembly dissolves.
The ferry operator, bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, has insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it was “not a viable business” in its current state.
The move has been met with concern in Northern Ireland and across the UK.
Mr Nesbitt said the treatment of workers was “absolutely shocking and disgusting”.
“What we can do is hear from the unions,” he told BBCNI.
“I think we have to give them an opportunity to vent against this Orwellian treatment by P&O, and also brief us on their plans because they are thinking of a legal challenge.
“We could also hear about the kind of logistical challenges, because a lot of the Larne to Cairnryan route is very important for freight as well as for carrying passengers and we need to consider the implications.
“We had a look at that on Friday in terms of best and worst case scenarios. But it would not be sensible or appropriate to put the worst case into the public domain at this stage until we have certainty, because the last thing we want to do is create any form of panic.”
This is one of the most appalling incidents that I’ve ever come across in my professional career in employment law and certainly as a local politician. I don’t think I have seen worse either
Stewart Dickson, the Alliance Party MLA in East Antrim who also sits on the Assembly’s economy committee, described the treatment of workers as “absolutely brutal”.
“This is one of the most appalling incidents that I’ve ever come across in my professional career in employment law and certainly as a local politician. I don’t think I have seen worse either,” he added.
“People (were) just simply told in the most Orwellian fashion, ‘You’re out of work. You’re fired.’”
Mr Dickson said agency workers brought in to replace staff will be paid “appallingly lower” than the current rates of pay.
“Regrettably, they’re not the only employer that has taken advantage of Brexit, that has taken advantage of the Covid, to do fire and rehire,” he added.
“We’ve seen that with airlines and we’ve seen it with other businesses.
“But 800 in one day, by this method, without consultation with the trade union, allegedly telling the Government 24 or 48 hours in advance, all of that is absolutely brutal stuff.
“A lot of it comes down to the way in which UK employment law actually operates. This company has factored in the real cost of this. Yes, of course, there are penalties for the unbelievably brutal behaviour that the company has taken against some employees.
“But the reality is that many of them will have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements to get perhaps a slightly higher rate in their termination settlement.”
Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which represents many of the P&O workers, called on the UK Government to introduce emergency legislation to seize the assets of the Dubai-based owners.
He said similar measures were brought in to freeze the assets of Russian billionaires after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia’s forces on February 24.
“We’re going to be asking the Government to do several things. First of all, if they can bring in emergency legislation to seize the assets of Russian billionaires, then they can bring in emergency legislation to take up the assets of the billionaires in the United Arab Emirates,” Mr Hedley said.
“These people own the ports, they own the ships – they are their assets.
“Quite simply, the Government should seize those ports and seize the ships and renationalise P&O.”