P&O Ferries will not be taken to court by the government despite admitting it broke the law by sacking 800 workers without consulting them, a minister has admitted.
MPs have been told that due to more lenient dismissal laws in the UK than in other countries, workers themselves would have to take a company to an employment tribunal.
There is “no injunctive power” at P&O Ferries, a senior business department official has admitted – although the company is still under investigation into other possible breaches.
The admission comes despite Boris Johnson’s promise just 24 hours earlier that the company had found itself in court, telling MPs: ‘P&O is clearly not going to get away with this.’
It sparked disbelief from Huw Merriman, the Tory chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, who demanded to know why ministers were not taking ‘immediate action today’.
But Paul Scully, a business minister, said: ‘It is up to those affected and their representatives to take the matter to court.
He told the emergency inquiry: ‘Some people may actually be happy with the improved offer’, after P&O said it was paying more than £36million in compensation.
Asked whether P&O’s ability to fire workers without consultation revealed the weakness of the UK’s ‘flexible labor market’, Mr Scully urged people to consider the ‘wider landscape’.
It is the “flexible labor market” that has enabled the UK to “create more jobs than the whole of the European Union put together” since the financial crash of 2008, said the minister.
However, his officials admitted they had not consulted the attorney general before concluding that the government lacked the power to inject P&O.
And he refused to commit to changing the law to prevent a repeat in the future – despite Mr Merriman calling for legislation in the May Queen’s Speech.
“This company broke the law because they know they can get away with it,” protested Ben Bradshaw, Labor member of the Commons Transport Committee.
“It didn’t happen to the French and the Dutch because they have better legal protections,” he told Mr Scully.
The minister said the Insolvency Service was looking into whether other notification laws had been breached by P&O – but he told the inquiry the work would not be completed until April 8.
In addition, a leading maritime lawyer argued that the firm could legally lay off 800 employees without telling the government, due to a change in the law introduced by Chris Grayling.
In 2018, the gaffe-prone former transport secretary quietly changed legislation meant to protect workers to create an exemption for mass layoffs on foreign-registered ships.
Mr Scully also admitted that failing to properly inform Cyprus of redundancies on Cyprus-registered vessels would only be an offense “under Cypriot law”.
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This notice was published: 2022-03-24 13:37:19