MPs urge government to remove P&O's licence to operate and disqualify its CEO

Credit: PA

Another day, another public stoning for P&O Ferries.

A joint evidence session by the Transport and BEIS select committees has concluded that the government “has not moved sufficiently quickly” to protect sacked crews from P&O’s “noxious business practices”. 

In a letter to the Transport Minister, Grant Shapps, and the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, MPs present the government with a list of ten recommendations, one of which is to force P&O to stop trading.

“P&O Ferries broke the law, it or other companies may do so again” the letter states.

“The government should prosecute P&O Ferries and remove its licence to operate in the UK”.

'The setbacks and frustrations just keep coming': ITV News Business and Economic Editor Joel Hills analyses the calls to revoke P&O's licence

MPs described some of the evidence they heard last Thursday as “appalling”. 

The CEO of P&O Ferries, Peter Hebblethwaite was one of the witnesses who appeared. 

MPs say Hebblethwaite “flaunted his contempt for the law” at the hearing and is “not a fit and proper person” to run P&O. They demand he is “struck off as a company director”.

Last Thursday, Peter Hebblethwaite admitted the company broke the law by dismissing crew without consultation, as part of a plan to cut costs by bringing in cheaper agency crew.

Watch the moment P&O ferries CEO admits they broke the law

“I want to make sure that P&O suffer the consequences of their illegality and that the chief executive suffers the consequences,” says Andy McDonald MP, who is a member of the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy committee.

He described P&O’s behaviour as a “total disgrace”.

Mr McDonald likened the manner of the sackings to 'gangster behaviour'

The select committees urge the government to ensure that all crews sailing “to and from UK ports” are paid the UK minimum wage.

P&O Ferries is paying its new recruits an average of £5.50/hour but today expressed a willingness to pay the national minimum wage (which rises to £9.50/hour this week) if rival operators do the same.

On Monday morning, the transport secretary wrote to P&O and advised it to reinstate its crews.

Grant Shapps said he planned to “block” the company’s plan to pay workers on its vessels less than the minimum wage.

P&O CEO Peter Hebblethwaite Credit: PA

He said P&O had “one further opportunity” to rehire staff before the government forced it to do so.

Last Wednesday, the prime minister said he thought P&O had broken the law when it fired staff without warning on 17th March.

Boris Johnson promised the government “will be taking action”. There’s still no sign of it though.

P&O had an obligation to consult crew before sacking them. It also had a duty to notify the countries where its vessels are registered well in advance. P&O admits it did neither of these things.

“The remaining (and difficult) legal question is whether the failure to notify the flag state authority within the relevant time frame - a failure which has now been admitted by P&O in terms of the timing of notification - is covered by the offence in section 194 [of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992],” says Professor Alan Bogg of the Bristol Law School.

“If the government lost in a prosecution of P&O, it would raise very embarrassing questions”.