“A complete insult to workers”: Union hits out at P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite’s ‘promotion’

The RMT has said “gangster capitalists should not be rewarded for their appalling employment practices”

The disgraced director of P&O Ferries has taken on further directorships within the company, despite calls for his resignation over the sacking of 800 seafarers earlier this year.

Peter Hebblethwaite, who told MPs at a select committee hearing that he would have taken the decision to sack staff without consultation again, earns £325,000 per year as CEO of P&O Ferries.

Who is Peter Hebblethwaite and what did P&O do?

The decision by P&O Ferries to sack around 800 staff without consultation via a pre-recorded Zoom message was roundly criticised earlier this year.

By failing to consult with trade unions over the mass redundancies the company breached employment law, in a move which was designed to cut staffing costs for the operator, as UK-based staff were replaced with agency workers paid as little as £4 per hour.

Boris Johnson was among those to call for the ferry company’s CEO, Peter Hebblethwaite, to resign.

Since then the company has been found to have committed a number of safety breaches across its fleet.

The Pride of Kent has failed safety inspections on three occasions and two other P&O Ferries have also failed Maritime and Coastguard Agency inspections in the last month or or so.

The safety failures detected aboard P&O ships include fire safety equipment not being installed, poorly maintained lifeboats and inadequate certification of the agency crew employed by International Fleet Management.

However, according to Companies House Mr Hebblethwaite has taken on new directorships within the P&O group, in what the RMT union has described as a “complete insult to workers everywhere”.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: "Gangster capitalists should not be rewarded for their appalling employment practices; they should be punished with the full force of law.

"Promoting Peter Hebblethwaite is a complete insult to workers everywhere, especially our members in Dover, Hull, Larne, Cairnryan and Liverpool who continue to deal with the consequences of P&O Ferries appalling assault on their jobs and livelihoods.

The firm is currently subject to both criminal and civil investigations by the Insolvency Service into the mass sacking.

Mr Lynch added: “Hebblethwaite is paid a basic £325,000 per year whilst Indian Able Seafarers on the Pride of Canterbury are paid a basic of £3.97 per hour. This naked corporate greed on our key ferry routes cannot be allowed to continue.

"P&O and Hebblethwaite are specialists in failure and the Government has to take further action to reinstate sacked seafarers and to prevent further carnage in the UK ferries sector."

P&O denies Hebblethwaite promotion

Speaking at an industry conference last month, Mr Hebblethwaite claimed he and the company had been victims of misinformation and said he hoped he would be able to “survive the next few months”.

Addressing the Shippax conference, he said: “We have not conducted ourselves on the day, or since, in anything like the way that has been suggested of me and us.”

Addressing MPs at a select committee inquiry hearing regarding the mass sacking, Mr Hebblethwaite admitted knowingly breaching employment law, and failed to comment on whether he would accept a bonus this year.

A spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: “As a matter of public record, Peter Hebblethwaite has been a Director of P&O Ferries Division Holdings since August 2019.

“As is normal, since being confirmed as permanent Chief Executive Officer on 22 February 2022 he has now been appointed to the boards of all P&O Ferries Division Holdings subsidiary companies.”