P&O Ferries’ boss has refused to rehire the 800 workers it dismissed, stating it would cause the company’s collapse, after transport secretary Grant Shapps gave the ferry operator ‘one final opportunity’ to reverse its decision.
In a letter to P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite yesterday (29 March), Shapps said the government’s plans to make it illegal for ferry firms to pay less than the minimum wage would likely force the firm to reinstate the workers if it did not do so now.
“A reversal at this point may also go some way in starting to repair your firm’s reputation,” the letter said.
“I will be bringing a comprehensive package of measures to Parliament to ensure that seafarers are protected against these types of actions in the way that Parliament and this government already intended.
“With the above in mind, you have one final opportunity to reverse this decision immediately, by offering all 800 workers their jobs back on their previous terms, conditions and wages – should they want them back at this stage.”
My letter to P&O boss makes clear that this government will not stand by while the requirement to treat seafarers with due respect and fairness is brazenly ignored. pic.twitter.com/4ozBsydJPC
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) March 28, 2022
The letter also urged P&O Ferries to drop its 31 March deadline for staff to respond to its redundancy offer . The ferry operator said 765 have already taken steps to accept their redundancy payments, and more than 500 have signed settlement agreements.
P&O Ferries redundancies
Hebblethwaite has today hit back at the letter, suggesting that reversing the cuts would lead to the loss of 2,200 further jobs.
He said: “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.”
Today, we have written to the Secretary of State for Transport in response to his latest letter. pic.twitter.com/XbLWSHKgS1
— P&O Ferries (@POferries) March 29, 2022
He refused to withdraw the redundancy agreement deadline as many staff have already signed their contracts.
“These are legally binding agreements, and crew members who have entered them will rightly expect us to comply with their terms.”
The letter adds that the firm recognises that the government is “entitled and empowered to introduce laws it deems appropriate” and noted that it “never sought to undermine the minimum wage regulations”.
It said its new crewing model is relevant for 80% of the global shipping industry and will allow it to remain competitive.
“We have made this difficult decision in the knowledge that it would be highly unpopular and, for some, difficult to reconcile. I reiterate my great distress that no other options could be identified and I profoundly regret the pain caused to so many dedicated P&O Ferries employees,” the letter says.
Many employees who have signed the redundancy agreements are likely to “pocket their pay out and go and work for the competition”, suggested Simon J McMenemy, managing partner in employment law at Ogletree Deakins International.
He suggested that Shapps’ letter “is just a blatant attempt to ride the wave of disgust the public feels to cover up the issue that not only did the government allow this to happen on its watch, it actually made it more likely to happen.”
McMenemy was referring to the fact that previous transport secretary Chris Grayling passed legislation in 2018 that meant ferry operators no longer needed to inform the government if they were making 100 or more redundancies involving employees who lived in the UK.