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P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite will not reverse decision to sack 800 after outcry and government threat


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The boss of P&O Ferries has insisted he will not reverse the decision to sack nearly 800 seafarers despite being given “one further opportunity” by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite wrote to the Cabinet minister claiming his request “ignores the situation’s fundamental and factual realities”.

Re-employing the sacked workers on their previous wages would “deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs”, the letter stated.

“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”

When P&O Ferries announced its decision to replace its crews with cheaper agency workers, it stated that the business needed to cut costs to survive as it was losing £100 million a year.

Mr Hebblethwaite also rejected Mr Shapps’ request that Thursday’s deadline for sacked workers to accept redundancy offers is delayed, as more than 765 of the 786 affected people have “taken steps to accept the settlement offer”.

He wrote: “Of these, over 500 have now accepted and signed settlement agreements, including 67 officers who have either accepted the offer to work with the new crew provider or are in process.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite says he will not re-employ sacked workers
Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite says he will not re-employ sacked workers

"These are legally binding agreements, and crew members who have entered them will rightly expect us to comply with their terms.”

Within the letter, he also states that the firm supports the rise in a minimum wage.

This comes after he admitted to the House of Commons last week that the average hourly pay of the new crew is only £5.50.

He wrote: "We welcome the Government's commitment to increasing the minimum wage for all seafarers working in British waters.

"We have never sought to undermine the minimum wage regulations.

The average hourly pay of the new P&O crew is only £5.50. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The average hourly pay of the new P&O crew is only £5.50. Picture: Barry Goodwin
A demonstration in Dover by RMT members in support of the sacked P&O workers Picture: Barry Goodwin
A demonstration in Dover by RMT members in support of the sacked P&O workers Picture: Barry Goodwin

"Indeed, from the outset, P&0 Ferries has called for a level playing field regarding salaries on British ferry routes.

"The crewing model we have adopted is relevant for 80% of the global shipping industry and is common amongst our competitors.

"The adoption of a flexible crewing model will allow us to meet the demands of our customers whilst remaining commercially competitive."

He emphasises that most of the anticipated savings are from the removal of job duplication and the benefits of increased flexibility - not from reducing wages.

He makes a plea to explain the "crewing model in greater detail" to the cabinet minister, before acknowledging how "highly unpopular" the company's actions have been.

Protesters in Dover the day after P&O Ferries made hundreds of staff redundant
Protesters in Dover the day after P&O Ferries made hundreds of staff redundant

He said: "We have made this difficult decision in the knowledge that it would be highly unpopular and, for some, difficult to reconcile.

"I re-iterate my great distress that no other options could be identified, and I profoundly regret the pain caused to so many dedicated P&0 Ferries employees.

"I can further assure you that I am fully cognisant of the reputational cost to the P&O Ferries brand and me personally."

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