P&O boss ‘should be in the dock’ says British trade union

Pride of Britain P&O Ferries

British trade union RMT has condemned P&O head Peter Hebblethwaite’s performance in the Parliamentary Committee this week, where he admitted staff were paid under £5 an hour.

The RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers), has 83,000 members from almost every sector of the transport industry, including maritime and offshore.

P&O sacking scandal

Hebblethwaite is chief executive of Dubai-owned UK ferry operator P&O Ferries. The firm drew condemnation after it unlawfully sacked over 700 seafarers in March 2022, with no warning and no consultations. The move led to protests and sit-ins across the P&O fleet.

Replacement agency workers were in some ports readying to board the ferries soon after the announcement was made to staff over Zoom. According to local reports, in some cases, the agency workers crossed paths with the shocked P&O employees.

In 2022, the Insolvency Service decided not to launch criminal proceedings against P&O over its sackings.

This week, the Business and Trade Committee grilled Hebblethwaite over his role in the debacle. He admitted that low wages of £4.87 were paid to his workers but that he did not know how long seafarers worked on board ships without a break. Liam Byrne MP asked him if he is “a pirate” who appears to be “robbing staff blind.”

Hebblethwaite said without the mass sackings “P&O would not be here today” – before admitting “the lowest, fully consolidated hourly pay is about £4.87”.

The UK national minimum wage is £11.44 for people aged 21 and over. P&O Ferries uses maritime workers employed by an overseas agency. As these workers are on ships which are foreign-registered in international waters, the UK rates do not apply.

Hebblethwaite, who received a £183,000 bonus in April 2023, on top of the £325,000 basic salary, admitted to MPs he could not live on the less than £5-per-hour some of his staff are paid.

RMT alleges evidence has been found of P&O workers not having any leave for 17 weeks straight, which falls well outside what is considered safe working conditions internationally.

Hebblethwaite told the committee that P&O did not sack anyone just over two years ago and that they acted legally. “We did initiate a redundancy programme,” he insisted, adding that the welfare of crew onboard the company’s ships was “second to none”.

In a statement, the RMT highlighted that no due process was followed regarding redundancy laws and collective bargaining arrangements with trade unions during the layoffs.

“Peter Hebblethwaite should be in the dock for what his company is responsible for,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said. “Yet he is allowed to pontificate in Parliament, failing several times to be accurate and retaining bumper bonuses throughout his tenure as the head of P&O ferries.

“Maritime communities have not recovered from the mass sackings of seafarers in 2022, and the government has not passed laws that will help deter other employers doing the same thing in the future.

“Our shipping industry needs investment in skills, good terms and conditions for ratings, and companies like DP World, which owns P&O, to be ejected from the country to prevent mass exploitation of seafarers.”

Comments are closed.

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

Skip to content