'Difficult decision'

P&O Ferries boss says u-turn would hit more jobs

Peter Hebblethwaite: I have no plans to resign

P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite has refused to reinstate 800 workers sacked by Zoom without notice, insisting that doing so would put the firm and thousands of other jobs at risk.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps demanded Mr Hebblethwaite reverse the job cuts, warning that the government would make it illegal for ferry firms to pay less than the minimum wage.

However, the ferries boss said that welcoming the sacked crew back on their previous wages would imperil an additional 2,200 workers’ jobs.

Speaking remotely, he told a Scottish parliament committee today that he had apologised to the sacked crew and their families and had given them compensation.

“I have no plans to resign. I have to see this through. We need to get this business back on its feet, to make it competitive, viable and give us an opportunity to grow,” he said, in response to Labour MSP Monica Lennon who said he was probably “the most hated man in Britain” whose “ethics are lying at the bottom of the seabed.”

She asked him: “How do you sleep at night?”

He replied: “Look, it was a very difficult decision. It was the only option – in our opinion – that we had. It was a decision designed to save thousands of jobs.”

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He insisted the company had “painstakingly explored all possible alternatives” and that more than 500 of the sacked crew had accepted and signed settlement agreements. It would not be possible to change the 31 March deadline for seafarers accepting their redundancy offers.

He admitted to MPs last week that the decision on 17 March to sack the crew had broken the law by not consulting with the union. He said no union would have accepted the plan.

Mr Shapps said Mr Hebblethwaite’s attitude showed “contempt for workers who have given years of service at your company”.

In a written response to the Transport Secretary, Mr Hebblethwaite wrote: “Complying with your requests would deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs.

“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”

P&O Ferries’ decision to replace the 800 staff it sacked with agency workers earning an average of £5.50 per hour, which is less than the UK minimum wage, has provoked fury from the public, trade unions and politicians.

Efforts to change the law will begin on Wednesday or Thursday.

Transport Minister Robert Courts told MPs P&O Ferries would “not be allowed to get away with their actions”.

He said that the government was looking at a range of tools “as fast as humanly possible”, although he could not give more detail when speaking in the House of Commons.

Mr Shapps said the measures would ensure seafarers were protected against the actions P&O Ferries had taken, but admitted some may not want their jobs back at this stage.

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