'Men were breaking down in tears': Ex-P&O sailor says sacking was like bereavement

Sorry was never going to be enough from P&O's leadership, as Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

"There was guys breaking down in tears" as P&O Ferries announced it was sacking 800 staff members without warning, a former sailor for the firm has told ITV News.

Lee Davison, who was a deputy petty officer on P&O ship The Pride of Kent before being sacked on the spot, said he was "numb" hearing the news, which hit him "like a bereavement".

"You seem to be going through all the different stages. You're angry, you're upset, then you think 'is it your fault, what could you have done'. And now we're angry and after yesterday everyone is just furious," he told ITV News.

"There was one guy," he said, "who's been saving up for years to move out of his dad's house with his two young kids, he's finally got enough for a deposit and now he's got no job so he won't be able to move out."

They were among hundreds of former P&O staff members who learned their employment was being terminated with immediate effect in a pre-recorded video message and their vacant roles would be filled by agency workers earning just £5.50 an hour.

'It was like a bereavement': Former P&O employee on being sacked over video

Mr Davison said the people behind the mass sacking "have got no morals", as he went on to criticise P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite, who admitted to MPs at the transport select committee on Wednesday that his firm knew it was breaking employment law by not warning unions of the planned action.

"These people believe that they are above the law and they don't have to consult with us," the former seafarer said, adding: "People are just distraught."

"Paying someone £5.50 an hour is absolutely disgusting, it's less than the minimum wage," Mr Davison told ITV News, as he contrast it with the salary of Mr Hebblethwaite.

"For a guy on 325k a year, to tell someone on 26k a year that 'you're the problem, you're the reason this business isn't succeeding' - it's just disgusting."

Boris Johnson wants the P&O boss to resign over the sackings, his spokesperson said, after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps condemned the “brazen” and “breathtaking” comments at the select committee about “knowingly breaking the law”.

Talks on Friday between union officials and P&O over the sackings ended after 20 minutes without any agreement.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said the "obnoxiousness and hostility" of the company was on display at the meeting.

P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite was grilled on whether he could live on £5.50 an hour

General secretary Mick Lynch said: "P&O were not prepared to listen to any scenario or develop any idea that would provide a means to create a solution to the current disastrous situation.

"The meeting broke up inside 20 minutes as P&O were simply unprepared to change their course from the illegal dismissal of 800 seafarers.

"RMT will continue to press the government for an immediate intervention by whatever means necessary to make P&O perform a U-turn and get our members reinstated.

"We also call on the entire labour movement, the public, the freight and logistics sector and the political community to support an immediate and total boycott of all P&O services.

"The people of the UK need to pull P&O to account and make sure that the law in the workplace is upheld, that British workers can have job security and decent pay and that P&O workers get workplace justice."

Mr Hebblethwaite insisted in an email to employees, obtained by ITV News, that "no criminal offence has been committed".

"Neither me, P&O Ferries or our Shareholder, DP World would allow it," he added, as he appeared to explain how employment law had been broken by saying "there has been a failure to comply with the obligation to consult".

He said the mass sacking was "an incredibly difficult decision" but one that was "necessary and pivotal for our business".