P&O Ferries: chief executive admits firm chose not to consult over sacking of 800 workers

Peter Hebblethwaite was being quizzed by MPs over the move by P&O Ferries to sack 800 workers without warning and use agency staff instead

P&O Ferries chief executive told MPs the firm chose not to consult over the sacking of 800 seafarers.

He also admitted the controversial move had seen a hit to the brand and as well as customer cancellations in the wake of the announcement.

MPs also heard the average wage of the replacement crew is £5.50.

Peter Hebblethwaite, Chief Executive, P&O Ferries, answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commons.

Peter Hebblethwaite was questioned on whether he was concerned that he was on breach of his legal obligations as a company director, and he said: “So as I say, 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.”

Mr Hebblethwaite said a consultation on the new crewing model for P&O Ferries would have been “a sham”.

He told MPs: “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.”

What did Peter Hebblethwaite say?

Speaking to the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Peter Hebblethwaite where he was grilled by MPs, he said: “Can I start these with an apology?

“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.”

Mr Hebblethwaite, who told MPs his basic salary is £325,000, and said 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, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “I think that P&O was otherwise going to close, and didn’t have a future.”

How much are the new workers being paid?

Most seafarers replacing the 800 workers sacked by P&O Ferries are being paid below the UK’s national minimum wage, the boss of the company has admitted.

Mr Hebblethwaite also told the session that the average hourly pay of the new crew is just £5.50 per hour.

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour.

The sacked crew earned an average of £36,000 per year.

Mr Hebblethwaite told MPs: “On the routes that are international routes, that are governed by ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) standards, we are paying above ITF minimum wages.”

Business committee member, Andy McDonald, said: “That’s below the national minimum wage of this country.

“How do you reconcile that?”

Mr Hebblethwaite replied: “Where we are governed by national minimum wage, we will absolutely pay national minimum wage.

“This is an international seafaring model that is consistent with models throughout the globe and our competitors.”

What was said about the impact on business?

Questioned on what he had done to the P&O brand by making this decision, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “No question, the brand has taken a hit. I don’t deny that.

“We did something that is incredibly difficult and we knew was going to be controversial, but we now have a business that we can rebuild and grow.”

Confirming some people had cancelled their tickets since the announcement, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “Some people certainly have and the reduction in bookings is different on different routes.

“On Dover-Calais we have taken a particularly large decline but that’s because those bookings tend to be made two weeks ahead.”

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