Business

P&O boss denies breaking law to remaining staff in leaked email

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite has denied the company broke criminal law when sacking 800 workers and told remaining staff they should not fear the same fate as their former colleagues.

In a message sent to all remaining staff this morning seen by Sky News, Mr Hebblethwaite sought to reassure employees their jobs are not at risk.

Almost 800 seafarers were sacked without notice last week in a move that outraged workers, unions, politicians and customers of the 150 year-old shipping brand.

On Thursday Mr Hebblethwaite admitted P&O broke employment law by failing to consult with unions and staff during evidence to a Parliamentary select committee.

In his message to staff however he insisted it was a “unique” situation and no criminal law was breached.

In his message, headed “From Peter – an update on this week”, Mr Hebblethwaite wrote:

“I just want to reassure you on a few points, particularly following my appearance at yesterday’s Select Committee with MPs and the media coverage this week.

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“Most importantly I am incredibly sorry for any anxiety that I’ve caused you or your family in the last week – this was never my intention and I am painfully aware it feels deeply uncomfortable.

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On Thursday, Mr Hebblethwaite admitted P&O broke employment law by failing to consult with unions and staff during evidence to a Parliamentary select committee.

“There are a couple of issues I also want to make sure you’re very clear on. The first is this type of dismissal could not and would not happen again. This was a unique situation.

“The second point is no criminal offence has been committed – neither me, P&O Ferries or our Shareholder, DP World would allow it.

“There has been a failure to comply with the obligation to consult. We have compensated all Jersey contracted seafarers for the lack of advance notice with enhanced severance packages which are believed to be the largest total compensation package in the British Marine sector – a total settlement of £36,541,648. Critically, no employee will receive less than £15,000 irrespective of their length of service.”

Mr Hebblethwaite goes on to praise the “strength, loyalty and commitment” of staff and claim he had no choice but to sack their colleagues at a stroke.

“Last week’s announcement was an incredibly difficult decision that we wrestled with, but it was also necessary and pivotal for our business. As a result, we’re giving our business a more secure future, by providing a solid platform on which we will be able to grow, which in turn will enable us to be a true competitor in this industry.”

His comments come after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called on the chief executive to resign, and vowed to change the law to force P&O into a U-turn and ensure shipping companies operating in UK territorial waters pay the minimum wage.

P&O are seeking to replace the sacked employees with agency staff earning an average of £5.15 an hour, a rate almost half the minimum wage. They are able to pay this they say because their ships operate in international waters and are registered overseas, in Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

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The transport secretary Grant Shapps “cannot believe” that the P&O CEO can remain in his position after admitting ‘knowingly’ breaking the law.

Mr Shapps said he would bring legislation before Parliament next week to close these “loopholes”.

Mr Shapps said: “What I’m going to do … is come to parliament this coming week with a package of measures which will both close every possible loophole that exists and force them to U-turn on this.

“We are not having people working from British ports… plying regular routes between here and France or here and Holland, or (anywhere) else, and failing to pay the minimum wage.

“It’s simply unacceptable and we will force that to change.”

“My message to P&O is simple, their wheeze is not going to work.

“We are going to legally require them to go back on it they might as well start on that now.

“If they haven’t got the right leadership to do it at the moment, and I think we saw through that brazen, breathtaking arrogance that they don’t, then they will probably need to think about sorting that out first.”

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