The chief executive of P&O Ferries has admitted it knowingly broke the law in order to sack its entire UK crew – and said he would make the same decision again.
Peter Hebblethwaite told MPs on Thursday (March 24) that P&O Ferries chose “not to consult” with unions or notify staff before last week’s shock announcement.
Consulting with unions would have been a “sham” said Hebblethwaite who also confirmed the new staff will be paid around £5.50 per hour – well below the UK’s minimum wage.
‘Are you just a shameless criminal?’
Opening the questions to Hebblethwaite, Labour MP Darren Jones, the chair of the Commons business committee asked if P&O Ferries is in a “mess” because Hebblethwaite doesn’t know what he is doing, “Or are you just a shameless criminal?” asked Jones.
The CEO apologised to the sacked seafarers and their families before saying P&O Ferries was losing “an unsustainable amount of money” and would have been forced to close without “radical changes”.
That “would have been 3,000 people losing their jobs,” said Hebblethwaite, rather than 800 redundancies “with substantial severance packages”.
“The business was not viable… I would make that decision again, I’m afraid.”
Boss admits P&O Ferries broke law by choice
When asked if he had broke the law “wilfully”, the P&O Ferries boss said: “I completely hold my hands up . . . we did choose not to consult.”
He added: “There’s absolutely no doubt that we were required to consult with the unions. We chose not to do that . . . and will compensate everybody in full for that.”
Hebblethwaite 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.”
Should be ‘ramifications’ for law breaking CEO
Chair of the Commons transport committee, Conservative MP Huw Merriman said Hebblethwaite should resign and warned of “ramifications” for the CEO.
Merriman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “We have to make it absolutely clear to P&O that they’ve broken the law. There are ramifications for that – personal liability for the chief executive who, I have to say, needs to consider his position.
“It’s untenable to come to parliament say you decided to break the law, you have no regrets. We can’t have companies run by people like that. And so he needs to hand his card in.”
Boris Johnson yesterday (March 23) warned that P&O Ferries faces “millions of pounds” in fines if it broke the law. In the Commons, the prime minister condemned as “callous” the nature of the mass redundancies that were announced by video link, “with immediate effect”.
HM Revenue & Customs is reported to have launched an investigation into whether P&O Ferries failed to adhere to minimum wage laws and the implication this will have on its access to UK ports.