P&O Ferries denies breaking the law or deploying Taser-trained security guards Business

P&O Ferries has insisted it did not break the law by firing nearly 800 seafarers without consultation.

In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, the P&O chief executive denied allegations that he ordered taser-trained security guards to remove workers from their posts.

Peter Hebblethwaite said P&O did not commit a criminal offense by failing to inform the Secretary of State as the vessels involved are registered outside the UK.

The dismissed seafarers worked in three separate branches registered in Jersey.

Mr Hebblethwaite said: “Contrary to rumours, none of our men wore hoods and were not ordered to use handcuffs or force.

“P&O Ferries has also made every effort to ensure, where possible, that everyone receives the news directly on the day of the restructuring and not second-hand from other affected colleagues.”

He said 261 people attended live virtual meetings, while those working that day were briefed face-to-face on the ships. Other people were informed by telephone, e-mail and SMS. The company argued that it needed to reshuffle its workforce in order to remain a viable business.

Of the 786 employees made redundant, 575 “took steps to accept” the proposed severance pay, he added.

Union Nautilus International said its “members have been under intense pressure from P&O Ferries management to accept these terms of dismissal while threatening to withdraw the offer made if they speak to the press or demonstrate against the company”.

Mr Kwarteng has ordered an investigation into reports that P&O is expected to pay the agency’s new staff below minimum wage. The RMT union claimed Indian agency workers hired to replace P&O teams in Dover were paid just £1.81 an hour. The UK minimum wage for people aged 23 and over is £8.91 an hour.

Mr Hebblethwaite was also asked to appear before MPs on Thursday to explain why his company laid off hundreds of people before proceeding with a consultation.

The firing of P&O workers has sparked widespread political fury and union protests. The government said it was reviewing whether the move was legal.

DP World, the owner of P&O in Dubai, was also summoned before MPs from the business and transport select committees.

Darren Jones and Huw Merriman, chairman of the respective committees, issued a joint statement calling for an explanation of P&O’s “shocking story”.

“This session will focus on understanding the details of the options available to the 800 workers who were laid off outright by P&O Ferries last week. The cruel nature of their dismissal has put employment practices and UK plc under the microscope,” they said.

“From P&O Ferries, our members want to know why this action has been taken and how it can be justified. This shocking story has raised questions about UK employment law, safety practices, support for this company during a pandemic and available remedies.”

Meanwhile, P&O is trying to restart its ferry services after staffing them with cheaper workers.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the treatment of P&O workers was “just not good enough”.

He asked the Insolvency Service to investigate whether P&O had followed rules on firing staff and warned the company it would face ‘unlimited fines’ if it failed in its duties.

The government is also reviewing all its contracts with P&O.

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This notice was published: 2022-03-22 22:14:11

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