P&O Ferries refuses plea from Grant Shapps to reverse decision to sack workers

A P&O ferry. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The boss of P&O Ferries has insisted he will not reverse the decision to sack nearly 800 seafarers despite being given “one further opportunity” by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite wrote to the Cabinet minister claiming his request “ignores the situation’s fundamental and factual realities”.

Re-employing the sacked workers on their previous wages would “deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs”, the letter stated.

“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”

When P&O Ferries announced its decision to replace its crews with cheaper agency workers, it stated that the business needed to cut costs to survive as it was losing £100 million a year.

Mr Hebblethwaite also rejected Mr Shapps’ request that Thursday’s deadline for sacked workers to accept redundancy offers is delayed, as more than 765 of the 786 affected people have “taken steps to accept the settlement offer”.

He wrote: “These are legally binding agreements, and crew members who have entered them will rightly expect us to comply with their terms.”

Mr Hebblethwaite 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 on Thursday, March 24, 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.”

Peter Hebblethwaite was questioned by MPs on Thursday, March 24.

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.