Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the boss of P&O Ferries should quit for his “brazen, breathtaking arrogance” in admitting breaking the law over a mass sacking.
Accusing the firm of a “weasel approach”, the cabinet minister also said he would change the law to force a U-turn and prevent the ferry operator paying below minimum wage to its workers.
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.
“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.”
Pressed on whether that meant he was calling for Mr Hebblethwaite to resign, he said: “Yes.”
Mr Hebblethwaite also confirmed its new crews were being paid below the UK’s minimum wage apart from on domestic routes, but insisted this was allowed under international maritime rules.
Mr Shapps said: “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.
“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.”
He added: “We are going to legally require them to go back on it they might as well start on that now.
“If they haven’t got the right leadership to do it at the moment, and I think we saw through that brazen, breathtaking arrogance that they don’t, then they will probably need to think about sorting that out first.”
Mr Shapps said P&O Ferries was trying to “distract attention” from its failure to provide notice of job cuts by claiming it informed him of its plans last year.
Mr Hebblethwaite, said Mr Shapps knew about the intention to slash jobs in November, although that was strongly denied by the Department for Transport.
Mr Shapps said: “I’ve sent the note, actually, from the meeting in November, which was with a parent company – DP World – when I was at World Expo, where they simply said the competition’s very tough, the conditions are very tight … and they’ll be looking at the shape of their business. I’ve actually sent the formal civil service note of that meeting.
“I think we can all see that what they’re trying to do is distract attention. The fact of the matter is that they needed to give 45 days’ notice to ministers, in fact to the secretary of state for business, if you’re making these kind of redundancies.
“They did not do that, they did not provide the notice.”
Pressed over when he first became aware of the crisis at P&O, he said: “I was actually stood at the despatch box on Thursday when news started to come out about it.
“For completeness, I should say that the night before I was informed by my office that there’d be another round of redundancies at P&O.
“But P&O have made redundancies in the normal way in the past, including particularly during coronavirus, and so that in itself, whilst obviously really unfortunate – if they’d gone through the normal consultation process, worked with the workers, worked with the unions, we wouldn’t be sitting here where we are today.”