MPs hearing

P&O Ferries boss admits sackings broke law

Peter Hebblethwaite facing MPs

P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite has admitted that the firm broke the law when it sacked 800 workers without giving them notice.

Facing MPs at Westminster, he said the firm should have consulted the unions before it told staff they were losing their jobs with immediate effect.

The law states that where the number of redundancies is 100 or more within a 90-day period, the consultation period must start at least 45 days prior to the first dismissal.

The company felt the union would not accept its plan and so it was easier to dismiss them and offer compensation, he told the Commons transport committee.

Labour MP Darren Jones opened the questioning by asking Mr Hebblethwaite, “Are you in this mess because you don’t know what you’re doing, or are you just a shameless criminal?”

Mr Hebblethwaite defended the company’s actions, saying: “We thought long and hard about the routes to this.

“We concluded that every single option available to us would result in the closure of P&O.”

Huw Merriman, the Conservative chair of the committee, said Mr Hebblethwaite should resign.

“It’s untenable to come to parliament and say you decided to break the law, you have no regrets,” he said. “We can’t have companies run by people like that. So he needs to hand his card in.”

Mr Hebblethwaite apologised to MPs for the distress they suffered, but said the cuts were necessary to save the business which has been heavily loss-making and he would do the same again.

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When asked by the Conservative MP Nus Ghani if he would “change anything, knowing what you know now”, Mr Hebblethwaite replied: “This is the only way to save this business and we have moved to a model that is internationally recognised across the globe and widely used by our competitors.

“I would make this decision again, I’m afraid.”

The workers would receive “extremely generous” compensation, on condition they would forgo their right to pursue further legal action against P&O.

No P&O worker will get less than £15,000 in compensation, he said, and a small number will receive more than £100,000.

Despite reports that the new crew were being paid less than £2 an hour, Mr Hebblethwaite told MPs that the average hourly rate of pay for new crew members would be £5.50 per hour. This is below the UK minimum wage. However, it is in line with international maritime standards.

Mr Hebblethwaite is due to face MSPs at Holyrood next week.

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