P&O sackings: PM backs calls for ferries chief to quit

The Prime Minister has backed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ call for P&O Ferries’ chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite to quit over the sacking of 800 workers without notice

Mr Shapps previously said Mr Hebblethwaite should resign after his “brazen” and “breathtaking” comments about “knowingly breaking the law”.

The Transport Secretary 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.

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"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."

Urged to resign: Peter Hebblethwaite, Chief Executive, P&O Ferries

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

Asked later if Boris Johnson supports the call for Mr Hebblethwaite to quit, a No 10 spokesman said: “Yes.”

The Government has also pledged to change the law to stop other firms who may try to “knowingly breaking the law”.

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

On Thursday, Mr 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.

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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.

Mr 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.

Mr Shapps said the move would force a "U-turn on what's happened at P&O".

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"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 Government will change the law to enforce this, he said: "That's exactly the plan."

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

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Asked about the claim, Mr 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.

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

Following a protests at a number of ports, including Cairnryan in Wigtownshire, the RMT has called for a demonstration in Glasgow on Monday.

The union is targeting Clyde Marine Recruitment which has been involved in the hiring of seafarers to replace those sacked by P&O.

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RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: "We are making it clear that there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide for those who have been complicit in the P&O jobs massacre. We will keep the pressure on at every opportunity until we get justice for the P&O workers

"We look forward to another good turnout on Monday and greatly appreciate the remarkable solidarity from our trade union colleagues in this dispute.‎"‎

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