maritime industry

P&O Ferries rejects British government plea to rehire fired workers

Reuters
P&O Ferries rejects British government plea to rehire fired workers

P&O FERRIES. A stop sign is pictured in front of the P&O Ferries ship European Causeway, held in the Port of Larne, Northern Ireland, March 27, 2022.

Paul Childs/Reuters

'I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall,' P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite tells British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

LONDON, United Kingdom – P&O Ferries on Tuesday, March 29, rejected the British government’s request to rehire 800 workers it fired without notice two weeks ago, saying that doing so would cause the company to collapse.

P&O Ferries, an 180-year old company now owned by Dubai-based logistics group DP World, prompted an outcry from British government ministers, lawmakers, and trade unions for its shock move this month to replace staff with cheaper agency workers.

Britain’s coast guard agency has since detained two P&O operated ferries, citing safety concerns over a lack of crew familiarization.

P&O Ferries’ boss Peter Hebblethwaite said the government’s request to reverse the redundancies ignored “the situation’s fundamental and factual realities,” responding to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a letter posted on Twitter.

“The circumstances which led P&O Ferries to make the decision in the first place still apply…. Complying with your request would deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs,” he added.

“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall.”

P&O Ferries has a fleet of more than 20 ships and operates over 30,000 sailings a year on routes between Britain, France, Ireland, and elsewhere in northern Europe. It has partly blamed its restructuring on the pandemic, saying it had lost 100 million pounds last year due to virus-related restrictions.

Shapps had on Monday, March 28, said a package of measures would be introduced to block ferry groups seeking to pay workers less than the minimum wage.

Hebblethwaite told a parliamentary committee last week that the company broke the law by not consulting unions so it could instead bring in cheaper agency staff.

The new hires were earning an average of 5.50 pounds an hour, he told the committee. The UK minimum wage, which is 8.91 pounds at present for most workers, is set to rise to 9.50 pounds next month.

The British government did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Tuesday.

Hebblethwaite also said in the letter that the company “never sought to undermine the minimum wage regulations.” – Rappler.com