Just In: P&O Ferries Boss Peter Hebblethwaite Faces Calls To Resign

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The boss of P&O Ferries Peter Hebblethwaite is facing mounting pressure to resign over the no-notice sackings of 800 staff.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called for him to step down after his “brazen” and “breathtaking” law breaking.

Mr Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs that he broke the law by not consulting workers but said he would make the same decision again if he had to.

The transport committee chairman has also called for Mr Hebblethwaite to go.

Conservative Huw Merriman said on Thursday: “It’s untenable to come to parliament and say you decided to break the law, you have no regrets.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said on Thursday it was calling for the immediate disqualification of Peter Hebblethwaite as a director.

The Institute of Directors has said Mr Hebblethwaite could face court proceedings under the Company Directors Disqualification Act (1986).

Dr Roger Barker, director of policy and governance, said this was due to Mr Hebblethwaite’s suggestion that P&O knowingly broke the law by not consulting staff.

“[Mr Hebblethwaite] leaves himself and the rest of the board vulnerable to court proceedings for unfit conduct and the potential for disqualification as a director, not just of P&O but any UK company.”

General Secretary Mick Lynch said the union would be holding talks with P&O on Friday to demand the reinstatement of sacked seafarers.

It follows days of protests by maritime workers protests outside parliament, P&O offices and docks.

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“The idea that you come to parliament and you admit that you deliberately set out to break the laws in order to sack your staff and bring in below minimum wage people and that you’ll buy off the staff to do that is quite simply unacceptable,” he said.

“They’ve exploited loopholes, they’ve been completely disgraceful and I’m clear that is no way to behave and not the right individual to have at the top of a British business.”

The BBC has seen a letter Mr Hebblethwaite sent to P&O colleagues on Friday telling them “this type of dismissal could not and would not happen again”.

He called it a “unique situation” and said no criminal offence had been committed.

He wrote that there had been “a failure to comply with the obligation to consult”.

But Jersey contracted seafarers would receive the largest compensation package in the British Maritime sector, he wrote.

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast the government would bring in measures next week to force P&O Ferries into a U-turn to re-employ staff on at least minimum wage.

These changes would also affect the operator Irish Ferries, who he said have used “the same model”.

“We’re simply going to make sure that these loopholes that they’ve very, very creatively, and rather evilly exploited, are closed in lots of different ways so they can’t find a way round them,” he said.

Asked about the action government could take against P&O, Mr Shapps admitted it “can’t directly” revoke P&O’s licence but said “we do have some mechanisms”.

“There are a whole load of other things happening including letters going out to the ports from which they sail, then, as I mentioned, different types of legislation will be forthcoming, so we are going to make sure P&O have to U-turn on this.”

Mr Hebblethwaite was questioned by the Transport Committee on Thursday.

Asked whether P&O broke the law by not consulting the unions, he said: “It was our assessment that the change [to staffing] was of such a magnitude that no union could possibly accept our proposal.

“So as I say, I completely throw our hands up, my hands up, that we did choose not to consult.”

He added: “We did not believe there was any other way to do this and we are compensating people in full.”

Mr Shapps said the first he knew of the P&O sackings was when he was “stood at the despatch box” in the Commons last Thursday delivering a statement on another issue.

He added that even if he had known in advance, “it wouldn’t have made any difference”, because P&O Ferries had already hired agency staff, security, and recorded the video “behind everybody’s backs”.

P&O Ferries has said its 800 redundant staff will be offered £36.5m in total – with around 40 getting more than £100,000 each.

The company said some employees are set to get 91 weeks’ pay and the chance of new employment, and no employee would receive less than £15,000.

Mr Shapps told Radio 4’s Today programme: “What they’ve done is try to pay off, or attempt to pay off, their staff with higher redundancy payments…and therefore buy their silence and we cannot have a situation where laws are being creatively used and abused in this case.”

The RMT union has called for the government to issue an immediate injunction to prevent P&O ships from sailing and to reinstatement sacked workers.

Mr Lynch said on Thursday: “This should include the government seizing control of the ships if necessary.”

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