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U.K. Prime Minister Calls for P&O Chief to Quit Over Ferry Crew Firings

Bloomberg
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March 25, 2022

By Emily Ashton and Siddharth Philip (Bloomberg) —

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed calls for P&O Ferries Chief Executive Officer Peter Hebblethwaite to resign, as the government vowed to bring forward new laws forcing shipping firms to pay the minimum wage.

Johnson agrees that Hebblethwaite must go, his spokesman Jamie Davies told reporters Friday. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said earlier that the executive should quit after showing “incredible arrogance” on Thursday when he told Parliament’s transport committee that P&O had failed to follow rules on consulting with unions before firing 800 staff.

“I cannot believe he can stay in that role,” Shapps said, adding that Hebblethwaite had made “brazen, breathtaking” claims. When asked whether the executive should resign right now, he responded “yes.”

P&O sparked outrage last week by dismissing its entire U.K.-based seafaring crew without prior notice. They were replaced with agency staff, a money-saving tactic that triggered protests and raised the prospect of legal action

Read: Unions Call Out DP World Over P&O Ferries Firings

Hebblethwaite told the committee there was “absolutely no doubt” that P&O was required by law to communicate with unions, but that to have done so “would have been a sham” given the fundamental nature of the planned changes. He said the firm had instead compensated fired workers with higher severance payouts.

“Even though they know they’ve broken the law, what they’ve done is pay people off in such a way as to buy their silence,” Shapps said. “It’s unacceptable.”

The minister pledged to come to Parliament next week with a package of measures that would “close every possible loophole that exists.” 

He said: “We are not having people working from British ports — on regular routes between here and France or here and Holland or anywhere else — and failing to pay the minimum wage. We will force that to change.”

Hebblethwaite told the Parliamentary committee that Shapps was made aware of plans to restructure back in November, when he met with senior managers from parent group DP World at the Dubai Expo.

But minutes released from that meeting appeared to back up Department for Transport claims that Shapps was not informed of the exact changes the company would be making.

According to the document, published by the transport committee Friday, Shapps told DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem: “I’m aware of the issues relating to P&O. I recognize you will need to make commercial decisions, but please do keep us informed.”(Updates with minutes released from meeting between Shapps, DP World from 10th paragraph)

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