Grant Shapps threatens P&O Ferries with package of measures to ‘halt sackings’

The ferry company made 800 crew members redundant without notice on March 17.

28 March 2022

A “package of measures” will “block” P&O Ferries’ plan to replace 800 seafarers with agency workers paid below the UK’s minimum wage, according to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.

The company caused outrage after sacking its crews with no notice on March 17.

In a letter to P&O chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, Mr Shapps wrote: “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.

“Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage.”

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour.

Mr Hebblethwaite, whose basic annual salary is £325,000, told MPs on March 24 the average pay of the agency crew is £5.50 per hour.

He said this is “an international seafaring model that is consistent with models throughout the globe and our competitors”.

Irish Ferries began operating on the Dover to Calais route in June 2021 in competition with P&O Ferries.

On March 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament: “We’re going to make sure that everybody working in the UK exclusive economic zone gets paid the living wage and we’ll do it as fast as we possibly can.”

Mr Shapps told Mr Hebblethwaite he has “one further opportunity” to reinstate the sacked workers on their previous wages.

He went on: “Our package of measures will prevent the law being broken, even when knowingly attempted.

“With this point in mind, I would also suggest that the deadline imposed on seafarers to respond to your redundancy offer by March 31 is dropped.

“Given that we intend to ensure such outcomes are prevented by laws, which we will ensure that you cannot simply choose to ignore, I believe you will be left with little choice but to reverse your decision in any case.”

In his evidence to a joint session of the Commons’ transport and business select committees, Mr Hebblethwaite admitted the company broke the law by not consulting with trade unions before sacking workers.

Mr Shapps reiterated his call for him to resign, accusing him of “contempt for workers” and describing his position as “untenable”.

Bosses from ferry firms DFDS and Stena Lines were due to hold talks with Department for Transport officials on Monday amid concerns over chaos at ports during the Easter holidays because P&O’s services are disrupted.

The department confirmed the meeting was taking place, but declined to comment on the topics for discussion.

P&O vessel European Causeway has been detained for being “unfit to sail”.

The vessel is being held at the port of Larne in Northern Ireland due to “failures on crew familiarisation, vessel documentation and crew training”, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

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