P&O Ferries rejects UK government plea to rehire 800 fired workers

Boss Peter Hebblethwaite says request ignores ‘fundamental and factual realities’

P&O Ferries on Tuesday rejected the UK government’s request to rehire 800 workers it fired without notice two weeks ago, saying that doing so would cause the company to collapse.

P&O Ferries, an 180-year-old company now owned by Dubai-based logistics group DP World, prompted an outcry from ministers, lawmakers and trade unions for its shock move this month to replace staff with cheaper agency workers.

Britain’s coastguard agency has since detained two P&O operated ferries citing safety concerns over a lack of crew familiarisation.

P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite said the request to reverse the redundancies ignored “the situation’s fundamental and factual realities”, responding to UK transport secretary Grant Shapps in a letter posted on Twitter.


“The circumstances which led P&O Ferries to make the decision in the first place still apply ... complying with your request would deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs,” he added. “I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall.”

Blaming pandemic

P&O Ferries has a fleet of more than 20 ships and operates more than 30,000 sailings a year on routes between Britain, France, Ireland and elsewhere in northern Europe. It has partly blamed its restructuring on the pandemic, saying it had lost £100 million (€118 million) last year due to virus-related restrictions.

Mr Shapps had on Monday said a package of measures would be introduced to block ferry groups seeking to pay workers less than the minimum wage.

Mr Hebblethwaite accepted at a parliamentary committee last week that the company broke the law by not consulting unions so it could instead bring in cheaper agency staff.

The new hires were earning an average of £5.50 an hour, he told the committee. The UK minimum wage, which is £8.91 at present for most workers, is set to rise to £9.50 next month.

The UK government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Hebblethwaite also said in the letter that the company “never sought to undermine the minimum wage regulations”.