Grant Shapps calls for 'brazen' P&O boss to resignAs part of the Government's response to P&O Ferries' mass Zoom sacking on March 17, the T
Grant Shapps calls for ‘brazen’ P&O boss to resign
As part of the Government’s response to P&O Ferries’ mass Zoom sacking on March 17, the Transport Secretary urged British ports to refuse access to ferry companies who underpay their crews “as soon as practical”. While laying out his strategy to prevent seafarers from salaries below minimum wage, an angry Mr Shapps accused the company’s chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite of “deliberately” exploiting “a weakness in international maritime law”.
Mr Shapps’s remarks came after P&O rejected the Government’s call to re-employ sacked staff on their previous salaries, arguing most had already accepted redundancy offers and ministers were “ignoring the situation’s fundamental and factual realities”.
More than 765 of the 786 crew members summarily sacked had “taken steps to accept the settlement offer”, while more than 500 had signed legally binding agreements, according to the P&O chief.
Some 67 officers are planning to continue to work on P&O’s vessels with the new agency crew, he said.
Mr Hebblethwaite wrote to the transport minister in a letter: “Complying with your request would deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs.
“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”
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The nine-point plan, Mr Shapps said, is a warning “that if you want to operate in the UK then you have to conduct yourself just like ANY OTHER boardroom”.
The emphasis on National Minimum Wage follows claims by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) that an agency had hired Indian staff for shipowner DP World in Dover at a rate well below the National Minimum Wage, which is £8.91 per hour for workers over 23, to replace those the company made redundant.
Mr Shapps told Parliament on Wednesday, March 30 the Government would write to the operators of British ports telling them to refuse access to companies that did not pay the UK minimum rate.
He also outlined plans to create “minimum wage corridors” on ferry routes between the UK and Ireland, France, Germany and Denmark and announced he would take action to prevent employers from using “fire and re-hire tactics” before “all reasonable efforts to reach agreement through a full and thorough consultation” have been made.
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Mr Shapps said: “P&O Ferries’ failure to see reason, to recognise the public anger, and to do the right thing by their staff has left the government with no choice.
“Where new laws are needed, we will create them. Where legal loopholes are cynically exploited, we will close them. And where employment rights are too weak, we will strengthen them.”
But the boss of the UK’s ferry ports trade body raised concerns the Government was “rushing to find a solution” to the issues brought forward by the P&O scandal “without considering the wider implications in the maritime sector”.
Richard Ballantyne, head of the British Ports Association, said: “The ports industry is genuinely sympathetic towards the situation of the impacted seafarers, however, we would suggest that ports are not the competent authorities to enforce rules on employee salaries or working conditions in the shipping industry.”
The trade organisation, which covers more than 400 port facilities across the country, said it was not the right organisation to enforce pay rules.
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The UK Major Ports Group, meanwhile, argued ports should not have to “be the police for the labour practices of ferry companies”.
It said, though, it was ready to “engage” with No10 “to find a more effective and appropriate way of addressing the issues raised” by the sackings.
RMT expressed disappointment the Government’s plans didn’t go far enough.
Saying it was “too little, too late”, the union questioned whether the move would do anything to force P&O Ferries to reinstate the workers, many of whom are thought to have been on salaries over the minimum wage before they were fired.
General secretary of RMT Mick Lynch said: “Despite all the bluster, Grant Shapps has failed to grasp the opportunity to adequately stand up to the banditry behaviour of P&O.
“The prime minister repeatedly said to parliament that the government would be taking legal action save British seafarers’ jobs but he has failed to keep his word.”
Mark Dickinson, general secretary of the Nautilus trade union, said he greatly welcomed the measures announced but believed they would not make P&O change course.
He said: “P&O Ferries are already extolling that extending the UK National Minimum Wage to international ferry routes will not cause them to change direction and that their cheap labour agency-based crewing strategy will remain intact.”