The boss of P&O Ferries should resign immediately after he admitted to knowingly breaking the law over the mass sacking of 800 staff, Grant Shapps has said.
The transport secretary said chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite had shown “brazen, breathtaking and incredible arrogance” in comments made in parliament on Thursday.
Mr Hebblethwaite told MPs there was “absolutely no doubt” P&O Ferries was required to consult with unions before the sacking of hundreds of members of staff on the spot - but chose not to. He also admitted most seafarers replacing the fired workers were being paid below the UK’s national minimum wage.
Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast on Friday the P&O Ferries boss should resign.
“The idea that you come to parliament, you admit you deliberately set out to break the law - it is not some accident or mistake - in order to sack your staff and bring in low minimum wage people and that you will buy off the staff to do that, is quite simply unacceptable,” he said.
The transport secretary also told Sky News: “I thought what the boss said yesterday about knowingly breaking the law was brazen, breathtaking, incredible arrogance.
“I cannot believe that he can say in that role, having admitted to deliberately go out and use a loophole - well, break the law - but also use a loophole.”
He added: “What they did was they flight their ships through Cyprus, avoided having to tell anybody about this - or they felt they did - and even though they know they have broken the law, what they've done is to pay people off in such a way to try and buy their silence. It's unacceptable.”
Mr Shapps said the government plans to change the law to ensure companies working from British ports pay people the minimum wage.
When pressed on the average hourly pay of £5.50 an hour for most of the replacement workers by MPs on Thursday, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “Where we are governed by national minimum wage, we will absolutely pay national minimum wage.
“This is an international seafaring model that is consistent with models throughout the globe and our competitors.”
The chief executive, when asked if he would make the same decision again with hindsight, said: “We weren’t viable before, and I know that if we hadn’t made radical changes the business would have closed, and I apologise for that.
“But genuinely, that would not have been 800 redundancies with substantial severance packages, that would have been 3,000 people losing their jobs.”
Later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Shapps accused P&O Ferries of attempting to “buy silence” from its staff over the mass sackings.
He said: “What they’ve done is paid off – or attempted to pay off – their staff with higher redundancy payments… and therefore buy their silence.
“We cannot have a situation where laws are being creatively used, or abused in this case, in order to get around what Parliament has very clearly intended to do. We have a (National) Minimum Wage Act.
“They flagged, for example, their ships in Cyprus in order not to have to provide us with notice of this. I mean, it’s completely irresponsible. It’s completely wrong.”