P&O admits breaking law by sacking 800 workers without notice

Chief executive of ferry company urged to quit

P&O Ferries has admitted breaking UK employment law when it sacked 800 workers without notice.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite was urged by MPs in London to quit after acknowledging there is “absolutely no doubt” the ferry operator was required to consult with trade unions.

The company replaced its crews with cheaper agency workers last week.

Mr Hebblethwaite said the new crews are being paid below the UK’s minimum wage apart from on domestic routes, but insisted this is allowed under international maritime rules.


He also claimed UK transport secretary Grant Shapps knew about the intention to cut jobs in November last year, although that was strongly denied by the UK Department for Transport (DfT).

Explaining the decision not to consult with trade unions, Mr Hebblethwaite told a joint session of the Commons’ transport and business select committees: “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.”

Questioned on whether he was concerned he had breached his legal obligations as a company director, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “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.”

Asked if he would make the same decision again with the benefit of hindsight, Mr Hebblethwaite replied: “We weren’t viable before, and I know that if we hadn’t made radical changes the business would have closed.”


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

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

His counterpart on the transport committee, Tory MP Huw Merriman, said Mr Hebblethwaite should “consider his position”..

Mr Hebblethwaite told MPs that Mr Shapps was informed on November 22nd last year by P&O Ferries' owner DP World that the company would be changing its business model.

The PA news agency understands that Mr Shapps did talk to DP World chief executive Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem on that date, but the DfT insisted the Cabinet minister was only told the ferry operator faced challenges from competitors.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “DP World did not mention to the Transport Secretary any changes it would be making to P&O Ferries and there was no indication of the completely unacceptable changes it has subsequently made.”

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 (€10.68) per hour.

Mr Hebblethwaite, whose basic annual salary is £325,000, revealed that the average hourly pay of the new crew is only £5.50. – PA Wire