P&O accused of 'fire and rehire on steroids' as boss reveals his salary nine times sacked crew's

  • Peter Hebblethwaite is questioned on whether he broke the law over P&O sackings.

P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite has admitted the company broke the law in how the firm handled the sackings of 800 crew-members, as he publicly revealed his salary.

Speaking before a committee of MPs, he told them there was “absolutely no doubt” the ferry operator was required to consult with trade unions - but it chose not to.

He replied: “I completely throw our hands up, my hands up, that we did choose not to consult.

“We did not believe there was any other way to do this to compensate people in full.”

He explained: “We assessed that given the fundamental nature of change, no union could accept it and therefore we chose not to consult because a consultation process would have been a sham.

“We didn’t want to put anybody through that.

“We are compensating people in full and up-front for that decision.”

The chief executive confirmed his salary is nine times that of the company's average seafarer, and that P&O Ferries were offering agency workers replacing sacked staff an hourly rate below UK minimum wage.

The decision by the firm to sack seafarers with no notice and take on agency staff was described as a 'fire and rehire scheme on steroids' during Thursday's hearing.

Mr Hebblethwaite claimed that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was informed by DP World that the company would be changing its business model on November 22 last year. But a Government source has insisted the claim is untrue.

The P&O Ferries boss went on to reveal to MPs he is paid a basic salary of £325,000 a year and, in addition, qualifies for two bonus schemes.

He said the average sacked seafarer earned £36,000 a year and will get £46,500 in compensation.

MPs were told the company is paying average hourly rate of pay £5.50 to new agency recruits, plus pension contributions.

But Mr Hebblethwaite admitted the lowest hourly rate, in the new model, would actually be 'around £5.15,' telling MPs: "The average rate is from about £5.50 to about £6, depending on exchange rate.”

The UK minimum wage rises to £9.50 an hour in April.

Grilled on whether he could live on the £5.50 an hour offered to agency crew-members, Mr Hebblethwaite did not answer.

And asked how much money P&O Ferries will save by sacking hundreds of workers and employing agency workers, he replied: “This entirely different model is about half the price of the previous model.”

Commenting on whether he believed that was a fair wage or whether he saw it as “modern day slavery”, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “The rates we are paying are in line or above ITF minimum standards and it is the operating model that the vast majority of operators across the globe work to.

“So this is the competitive standard.”

He continued: “I think we’ve got a tough job to do now to rebuild the business."

“But I think P&O (has) a future and P&O that is able to be competitive, pay its own bills, and offer the customer service that is required, has a much better chance.”

Mr Hebblethwaite insisted he believed the company was otherwise “going to close” without action over jobs.

Asked if he had increased or decreased the value of the company by his actions, the ferries boss replied: “I think that P&O was otherwise going to close, and didn’t have a future.”

  • Professor of Labour Law at the University of Bristol, Alan Bogg appeared via videolink as a witness to the committees.

Questioned on whether he would accept a performance-related bonus if his employers were “mad enough” to offer one, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “I can’t tell you how far that is from my thoughts.

“I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve got to be honest I’m not focussed on that, I’m focussed on saving the business and getting the 800 seafarers new jobs.”

The chief executive of the under-fire company also used the hearing to apologise to all the seafarers affected, their families, and all remaining P&O staff.

Mr Hebblethwaite said: "An apology to seafarers that were affected on Thursday of last week, an apology to their families, an apology to the 2,200 of our employees who have had to face very difficult questions over the last week or so.

“You may see this as a late apology and I just want to reassure you the reason that you’re hearing this for the first time today is because I’ve spent the last week in the business, talking to our people one to one.”

Also giving evidence at the hearing, Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) was asked if staff were physically and forcibly removed from ships.

A union had allegedly security guards were seen wearing balaclavas as they boarded boats to escort sacked ferry workers away in Larne, Northern Ireland.

Mr Lynch said on Thursday: "What I can confirm is that they call came onboard in security outfits.

"Our members were told they had to leave the ship immediately, and were escorted to their lockers and their cabins.

"Our people live on these things for seven days at a time."

  • P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite apologises to workers affected

Mr Lynch told MPs that P&O Ferries had committed "flagrant breaches of the law".

He said: "They've done it deliberately and they've factored in what they're going to have to pay for it, and they're threatening and blackmailing our people, saying 'if you do not sign this document by next Thursday, you will be out of work and you'll potentially get no award whatsoever, and you have to give up all of your legal rights to take this company to task'.

"This is absolutely outrageous."

"The whole thing is a setup and the law in this country is a shambles.

  • RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch describes staff being intimidated by people in secutiy outfits

"The politicians and the lawyers in this country have watched over the last 30 years, while not only workers have been made vulnerable, but our merchant marine has been decimated and destroyed.

"If this goes the way it's likely to go from what I've seen, we won't have a merchant navy in this country.

"There will be no ratings working in British ports. British ships will cease to exist, and British ratings will cease to exist.

"That's what P&O are aiming to achieve, to kill our merchant marine and to kill our employment laws, and something's got to be done about it today." He continued that there was no issue between P&O and the Union, and that the two sides were due to meet about the prospect of new vessels and new staff on March 18.

Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickenson referred to people's personal property from the Pride of Kent being dumped by the bins.

He told MPs he had received a photo of crew's binbags ready to be thrown into skips.

Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickenson

Andrew Burns QC, barrister at Devereaux Chambers, told MPs “all employers with ships must give a notice to the appropriate authority 45 days before dismissal”.

He continued: “My understanding from what I’ve been told this morning is that the notice was given to the appropriate authorities in the countries where the ships are flagged only on the day of the dismissals and not in advance.”

That “appears to be a breach” of employment law, and “it may be that (P&O Ferries) are liable to a prosecution”, he said.

Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickenson said crew's belongings were dumped by the bins. Credit: Nautilus

And Tory MP Nusrat Ghani told the hearing she had been told of safety concerns by a newly hired agency worker on the P&O Ferries ship.

She said: “They sent me a message which has given me a huge amount of anxiety.

“They said to me: ‘The safety of the vessel has not been considered.

“The crew that I am with have no knowledge of the vessel.

“The ship is currently in a situation whereby the engine could stop running as a crew do not know how to transfer fuel to them.

“This morning the vessel almost ran out of water.”

Speaking after the meeting Darren Jones, who chairs the business committee, said he was “amazed” by Mr Hebblethwaite’s evidence.

The Labour MP remarked: “He should be fined, struck off and prosecuted.”