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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Peter Byrne via PA Images UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Job Losses

UK's Transport Secretary calls for P&O Ferries boss to quit

Grant Shapps said he should resign after his ‘brazen’ comments about ‘knowingly breaking the law’.

BRITISH TRANSPORT SECRETARY Grant Shapps has said the boss of P&O Ferries should resign after his “brazen” and “breathtaking” comments about “knowingly breaking the law”.

It comes after chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted the company broke employment law when it sacked 800 workers without notice.

The UK Transport Secretary told Sky News this morning: “I thought what the boss of P&O said yesterday about knowingly breaking the law was brazen and breathtaking, and showed incredible arrogance.

“I cannot believe that he can stay in that role having admitted to deliberately go out and use a loophole – well, break the law, but also use a loophole.”

Pressed on whether that meant he was calling for Hebblethwaite to resign “right now”, he said: “Yes.”

Shapps also said the UK Government is planning to change the law to ensure companies working from British ports pay people the minimum wage.

Yesterday, Hebblethwaite was urged by MPs to quit after acknowledging there is “absolutely no doubt” the ferry operator was required to consult with trade unions.

The company replaced its crews with cheaper agency workers last week.

The chief executive admitted that the new crews are being paid below the UK’s minimum wage apart from on domestic routes, but insisted this is allowed under international maritime rules.

Hebblethwaite, whose basic annual salary is £325,000, revealed that the average hourly pay of the new crew is only £5.50.

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

Shapps said the move from the Government would force a “U-turn on what’s happened at P&O”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Asked if the UK Government will change the law to enforce this, he said: “That’s exactly the plan.”

Hebblethwaite also told a joint session of the Commons’ transport and business select committees yesterday that Shapps knew about the intention to cut jobs in November last year, although that was strongly denied by the Department for Transport.

Asked about the claim, Shapps said it was a way to “distract attention” from its failure to provide notice of job cuts by claiming it informed him of its plans last year.

Union leaders are to hold talks with P&O Ferries today to demand the reinstatement of sacked seafarers.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said it will be meeting with the company to demand the reinstatement of the sacked seafarers.

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