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P&O Ferries chief executive to face questions from MPs

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The chief executive of P&O Ferries will face questions from MPs later after the controversial sacking of nearly 800 workers last week.

Peter Hebblethwaite will appear before a joint hearing of the transport and business committees and is expected to be questioned about the legality of the dismissals.

Mr Hebblethwaite has apologised for the impact of the decision to sack the staff without notice, saying he understood the “anger and shock” about the loss of jobs.

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17 March: ‘Your final day of employment is today’

He insisted that “fundamental change” was necessary for the business to continue, adding: “All other routes led to the closure of P&O Ferries. I wish there was another way and I’m sorry.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that it appeared to him that the company had “broken the law” and that the government would be “taking action”.

Ex minister cleared the way for P&O redundancies

His words, however, came a day after a leading maritime lawyer told Sky News that a change in the law signed off by former Conservative minister Chris Grayling cleared the way for P&O Ferries to legally make the redundancies.

Legislation to protect employees in the UK was amended by Mr Grayling in 2018 so that the secretary of state does not have to be notified of mass sackings on ships registered overseas.

Other witnesses being questioned on Thursday include Alan Bogg, professor of labour law at the University of Bristol; Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International; and Mick Lynch, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union; and Jesper Kristensen, of P&O owner DP World.

People take part in a demonstration against the dismissal of P&O workers organised by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at the P&O ferry terminal in Cairnryan, Dumfries and Galloway, after the ferry giant handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week. Picture date: Wednesday March 23, 2022.
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The decision to sack hundreds of workers without notice has prompted anger

Huw Merriman and Darren Jones, who chair the transport and business committees, said: “The cruel nature of their dismissal put employment practices and UK plc under the microscope.

“From P&O Ferries, our members want to know why this action has been taken and how it can be justified.

“From the government and its agencies, we want confirmation that our laws are not being broken and safety is not being compromised on our ships.

“This shocking story has raised questions about UK employment law, safety practices, the support of this business through a pandemic and the redress available. We intend to hear from the key players about what they are going to do that means these workers are not left high and dry.”

‘Half-hearted apology’

Mr Lynch, from the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “Of course P&O need to be taken to court but that by itself won’t get our members’ jobs back. We need emergency action and legislation if necessary to enforce the reinstatement of our members.”

Mr Lynch described the P&O statement as a “half-hearted apology”, urging the company to reverse the sackings and reinstate the workers.

Nautilus said it expects the government to “take all possible action against these law breakers, who think they can buy silence and bully seafarers into unemployment or accepting lower wages and detrimental and unsafe terms and conditions of employment”.

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