P&O Ferries boss admits knowingly breaking law and says brand has ‘taken hit’

By Lisa James
Home » P&O Ferries boss admits knowingly breaking law and says brand has ‘taken hit’

The operator P&O Ferries knew it was breaking the law by not consulting over plans to sack 800 employees and outsource jobs to agency staff on much lower pay.

Chief Executive Peter Hebblethwaite told a joint Parliamentary committee: “I completely hold my hands up that we did choose not to consult.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that we were required to consult with the unions. We chose not to do that.

“We chose not to consult because a consultation process would have been a sham and we didn’t want to put anybody through that.”

When asked: “You are coming to this Parliament and saying you wilfully chose to break the law?” he replied ‘yes’.

He said he would take the same action again, if necessary, and that ‘no union would have accepted’ the proposals.

His comments led to Sedgefield MP Paul Howell saying it was ‘incomprehensible that [P&O Ferries has] chosen to break the law as a business decision’.

The committee heard new staff are being paid an average of £5.15 per hour and workers who have lost their jobs are being paid an average redundancy of £46,000.

When asked about his own earnings, Mr Hebblethwaite said he is on a £325,000 basic salary but did not say whether he would be taking a bonus this year, if it was offered.

Addressing fears over safety, Mr Hebblethwaite said the new employees are ‘very experienced, fully certified professional international seafarers’. His comment prompted a call from one member of the committee to: “Pay them decent wages, then.”

When asked by East Devon MP Simon Jupp: “What have you done to the brand?” Mr Hebblethwaite said: “No question the brand has taken a hit. I don’t deny that. We knew it was going to be controversial.”

He said the Dover to Calais route ‘has taken a particularly large decline because those bookings tend to be made two weeks ahead’ but said P&O Ferries is ‘still maintaining strong levels of bookings’ on routes such as Hull to Rotterdam and Larne to Cairnryan.

On Thursday afternoon, transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the ferry operator had ‘exploited a loop hole’ to sack British workers and bring in low paid staff, adding he will be introducing a ‘package of measures’ next week ‘to ensure this situation is undone’.

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