P&O Ferries can’t rehire those 800 seafarers it sacked earlier this month without risking a “financial collapse”, its boss Peter Hebblethwaite said today.
“The circumstances which led P&O Ferries to make the decision in the first place still apply,” Hebblethwaite told transport secretary Grant Shapps in a letter. “Complying with your request 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 own downfall.”
Hebblethwaite said he was forced to slash 800 jobs last week via a pre-recorded video call as the business was reporting a £100m loss year-on-year.
Seafarers were replaced with agency workers who made £5.50 per hour – well below the UK’s national living wage – whilst in international waters.
The boss continued to defend his actions despite admitting P&O had broken the law, and said he would not step down.
The chief executive also rejected Shapps’ request to delay the deadline by which sacked workers should accept their collective £36.5m redundancy offer, saying it almost everyone affected had “taken the steps to accept the settlement offer.”
“These are legally binding agreements, and crew members who have entered them will rightly expect us to comply with their terms.”
Hebblethwaite’s comments came after the secretary strong armed the company into rehiring all the laid off staff.
In a letter sent yesterday, Shapps said ministers were working on a proposal to require those firms operating in UK ports to pay seafarers minimum wage and “ensure that seafarers are protected against these types of actions”, City A.M. reported.
“Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage,” the secretary said, adding that the package would give “one further opportunity” to give people their old jobs back.
As part of the package, two P&O Ferries’ vessels were detained in the last few days over safety issues.
According to employment lawyer Tim Tyndall, employees would see rehiring as an unattractive proposition as many of them already accepted the severance package, while introducing minimum wage for all those working in UK ports could not match what some workers were previously entitled.