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P&O Ferries - live: Boris Johnson calls for CEO to resign

PM backs Grant Shapps in calling for Peter Hebblethwaite to quit

Helen Coffey,Simon Calder,Lucy Thackray
Friday 25 March 2022 18:12 GMT
Grant Shapps says P&O Ferries boss should resign 'now' after his 'breathtaking' comments

The prime minister has joined widespread calls for the CEO of P&O Ferries, Peter Hebblethwaite, to step down after he admitted to knowingly breaking the law in the mass sacking of 800 staff.

Asked if Boris Johnson supported transport secretary Grant Shapps’ assertion that Mr Hebblethwaite should quit, a No 10 spokesman said: “Yes.’’

Mr Shapps this morning said the chief executive should resign after his “brazen” and “breathtaking” comments when questioned by the transport select and business select committees.

He told Sky News: “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 Mr Hebblethwaite to resign “right now”, he said: “Yes.”

Yesterday the firm’s chief executive admitted the firm broke the law by choosing not to consult over the mass sacking of 800 workers on the spot.

When asked by the Conservative MP Nus Ghani if he would “change anything, knowing what you know now”, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “This is the only way to save this business and we have moved to a model that is internationally recognised across the globe and widely used by our competitors.

“I would make this decision again, I’m afraid.”

Read on for the latest news and developments.


What do we know about P&O Ferries and how will shipping change?

Seafarers on several ferries sailing to and from the UK, as well as mariners on cruises serving British ports, are set to receive pay rises when the government changes the law on paying crew next week.

A week ago P&O Ferries suddenly sacked 800 crew, planning to replace them with cheaper labour.

But the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We are going to make sure P&O have to U-turn on this.” He has vowed that shipping lines must pay seafarers at least the national minimum wage, and the prime minister has indicated that this will apply to any mariners on vessels in British waters.

Find out the key questions and answers in our explainer:

What do we know about P&O Ferries and how will shipping change?

Prime minister has signalled a pay rise for many crew on ferries and cruise ships using UK ports

Simon Calder25 March 2022 18:12

Ferry fares set to rise as Grant Shapps vows to impose minimum wage on ferries

The transport secretary has vowed to overturn the business model used on several ferry links between the UK and European Union destinations, with firms ordered to pay at least the national minimum wage.

Speaking to BBC Today, Grant Shapps said: “There shouldn’t be a difference when you’re on shore to being within the, you know, there’s an economic exclusion zone around the United Kingdom, 12 miles, if you are regularly plying your trade, as P&O and any other ferry company, between two ports, back and forth, it shouldn’t be the case that you can avoid paying the minimum wage.”

Irish Ferries, which started sailing between Dover and Calais in June 2021, has been reported to be using a similar business model to that proposed by P&O Ferries.

While the company declined to comment on its crewing arrangements to The Independent, the RMT union general secretary, Mick Lynch, yesterday told MPs that Irish Ferries is employing cut-price labour in the same way as P&O Ferries’ plan. He said the Irish company “has done exactly this procedure already”.

In addition, P&O Ferries’ link between Liverpool and Dublin, which is now sailing again, is believed to use agency labour.

Assuming a current pay rate of £5.50 per hour, as asserted to MPs by P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite, moving to the national minimum wage of £8.91 would represent an immediate 62 per cent increase. This would presumably be passed on to motorists.

Simon Calder25 March 2022 15:20

Grant Shapps warned four months before P&O sackings that firm planned cost-cutting changes

The transport secretary was warned four months before the P&O sackings that the ferry firm planned cost-cutting changes, minutes show.

Grant Shapps knew “commercial decisions” were looming and asked to be kept “informed”.

He discussed the “challenges” facing P&O Ferries with the chairman and chief executive of its parent company, DP World, at a meeting in Dubai in November.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told Mr Shapps: “In respect of our ferry business, there’s a new low-cost competitor from Irish Ferries.

“This poses challenges in respect of P&O’s operations. We kept ferries operating during the height of the pandemic to support movement of people and goods.”

The transport secretary replied: “I’m aware of the issues relating to P&O. I recognise you will need to make commercial decisions, but please do keep us informed.”

The sultan then said: “As we recover we can reinvest in the UK. We make a significant amount of income from the passenger side of our business (even though it only makes up c.30 per cent of total business), because the margins are so tight on the cargo side.”

Mr Shapps responded: “I appreciate everything you’ve done to support P&O. I see a tremendous future for ports in the UK.”

Irish Ferries started sailing between Dover and Calais in June 2021. It has been reported to be using a similar business model to that proposed by P&O Ferries.

The Independent asked Irish Ferries for details of its crewing arrangements.

We were told: “Irish Ferries cannot provide comment on this.”

Simon Calder25 March 2022 14:45

No 10 backs calls for P&O CEO to quit

No 10 has backed calls for the chief executive of P&O Ferries to quit his post, but refused to guarantee the company would be prosecuted under planned changes to the law.

Asked if the prime minister supported Grant Shapps’s call for the P&O chief executive to quit, a No 10 spokesperson told reporters on Friday: “Yes”.

The spokesman, however, refused to guarantee that the planned law changes would see P&O prosecuted — despite Boris Johnson making that promise in the Commons.

Read the full story:

No 10 backs calls for P&O Ferries chief executive to quit

But spokesperson refuses to guarantee firm will be prosecuted under planned changes to the law

Ashley Cowburn25 March 2022 13:30

‘P&O Risking Maritime Safety’ says RMT union

In a series of tweets, the RMT union – representing most of the sacked P&O Ferries seafarers – has questioned the safety of ships operated by new crew.

The union said: “UK seafarers with decades of experience onboard P&O Vessels have been replaced by crews with no knowledge of safe systems of work, risk assessments and intimate knowledge of a vessels layout and emergency procedures.

“P&O’s own study from 2012 showed moving to longer shift patterns of 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off created dangerous increases in crew fatigue. The same ships are now 10 yrs older & P&O want to move from 1-week on to 8-week on contracts!

“Crew from Ukraine, Latvia, Philippines & India raise serious concerns over Standard Maritime Communication Phrases onboard, particularly during an emergency situation.”

In a select committee hearing at Parliament on Thursday, Katy Ware, director of UK Maritime Services, told MPs: “You have my absolute assurance that we will go into absolute detail to ensure that those crew on board are familiarised, qualified, trained, and that we are satisfied they can operate those ships safely.”

She was responding after Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International, who represents sacked officers, said of the Dover-Calais route: “It’s an incredibly dangerous situation, and you need skilled, qualified, experienced maritime professionals.”

Ms Ware said: “Those vessels will not leave until we are satisfied that they are safe to operate.”

Simon Calder25 March 2022 11:58

Brittany Ferries launches UK’s first ferry powered by liquid natural gas

One of P&O Ferries’ rivals on Channel crossings, Brittany Ferries, has welcomed the UK’s first ferry powered by liquid natural gas (LNG) to Portsmouth.

Salamanca is the first of four LNG ferries to sail from Portsmouth to France and Spain. Two of them will be hybrid-electric vessels.

Christophe Mathieu, chief executive of Brittany Ferries, said: “LNG-powered ships like Salamanca are a clear statement of our commitment to the future and to fleet renewal.

“They are cleaner vessels, significantly cutting air quality emissions like soot and sulphur.”

The new ship will make two round trips to Bilbao each week, as well as a weekly voyage to Cherbourg in France.

All Brittany Ferries staff are employed according to French labour laws.

Simon Calder25 March 2022 11:23

Demonstration time

The RMT union, which represents most of the seafarers abruptly sacked by P&O Ferries, plans a demonstration in Liverpool on Saturday to call for their reinstatement.

The union calls it the “Stop the P&O jobs massacre demonstration”.

It will begin at the Seafarer Centre in Waterloo, Liverpool, at 11.30am.

Meanwhile the Scottish TUC has a demonstration at 11am on Monday 28 March outside Clyde Marine Recruitment in Govan, Glasgow.

Clyde Marine Recruitment is one of the agencies that P&O Ferries is using for replacement crew. The Scottish TUC tweeted: “Bring your flags and banners, all welcome!

“It’s time to target P&O’s supply chain and any company complicit in P&O’s scandalous decision to dismiss all UK seafarers.”

Simon Calder25 March 2022 10:33

Some P&O employees have already taken other jobs, says Shapps

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he has spoken to P&O workers who have already accepted other jobs.

When asked about how government plans to change the law would help sacked seafarers, Mr Shapps told Good Morning Britain some former employees had already been “paid off for their silence” by the company and had been offered jobs elsewhere.

He said: “I actually happen to know because I’ve been speaking with some of them that some of them have already taken up a job, so they may not get those particular ones back.

“I suspect they’ll get some of them back, although I imagine they’ll have a slightly rather jaded view of their employer as P&O, particularly if the current boss stays in place, which is why I’ve said this morning: ‘You’ll have to go.’

“But we will make sure the laws are changed to stop them using loopholes like flagging their ships in Cyprus to avoid and evade British law and not give notice of what they were doing, and not talk to the workers and the unions.

“They are completely outrageous and we will not let it stand.”

Reporting by agencies.

25 March 2022 10:08

P&O case must be ‘a line in the sand’ for union laws, says Labour MP

The MP for East Leeds, Richard Burgon, has called for a repeal of the anti-trade union laws in the wake of P&O’s controversial sacking of 800 seafarers this month.

“The P&O case must be a line in the sand. It’s time to repeal all the anti-trade union laws. Give workers a proper chance to fight back against terrible bosses,” wrote Mr Burgon on Twitter.

Lucy Thackray25 March 2022 09:47

P&O Ferries attempting to “buy silence” from sacked staff, says Shapps

Grant Shapps has said that P&O Ferries is attempting to “buy silence” from its staff over the mass sackings last week.

The transport secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What they’ve done is paid off - or attempted to pay off - their staff with higher redundancy payments... and therefore buy their silence.

“We cannot have a situation where laws are being creatively used, or abused in this case, in order to get around what Parliament has very clearly intended to do. We have a (National) Minimum Wage Act.

“They flagged, for example, their ships in Cyprus in order not to have to provide us with notice of this. I mean, it’s completely irresponsible. It’s completely wrong.”

25 March 2022 09:33

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