P&O Ferries boss should be jailed over sacking of workers, says unions chief

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P&O Ferries staff have protested at their sacking by taped message (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
P&O Ferries staff have protested at their sacking by taped message (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

The chief executive of P&O Ferries should be “behind bars” after sacking 800 seafarers, a trade union president has said.

Peter Hebblethwaite replaced the workers with cheaper staff in order to protect the company, he said.

However, Pat Rafferty, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) president, said sacking the seafarers via Zoom last month was “gutter” and “inhumane”.

Speaking at the annual conference in Aberdeen, Mr Rafferty said that the CEO should be put in jail to send a clear message to employers.

Peter Hebblethwaite of P&O Ferries appeared before a Holyrood committee (House of Commons) (PA Wire)
Peter Hebblethwaite of P&O Ferries appeared before a Holyrood committee (House of Commons) (PA Wire)

Mr Hebblethwaite rejected a request from Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, to reverse the decision.

He also admitted his company broke the law by failing to consult unions about the redundancies.

It is understood the business needed to cut costs to avoid collapse as it was losing money at a rate of £100 million per year.

Mr Hebblethwaite said re-employing the sacked staff on their previous wages would “deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irreversible loss of an additional 2,000 jobs”.

Mr Rafferty said: “There is something seriously wrong with our society when a company CEO like P&O can swan into a Westminster parliamentary committee and openly state that he broke the law – and worse still, he’d do it again.

Pat Rafferty has hit out at the sacking of the P&O workers (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
Pat Rafferty has hit out at the sacking of the P&O workers (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

“What that clearly demonstrates is how useless the law is. There is no deterrent to companies like P&O who are getting away with destroying people’s lives.

“The law needs to change. Peter Hebblethwaite should be struck off the directors register and put behind bars.

“That would send a clear message to employers, act irresponsibly towards workers and face the possibility that you will be jailed.”

Mr Hebblethwaite was also accused of “corporate terrorism” last month as he faced MSPs in Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

He told MSPs he had not taken a cut to his £325,000 salary while replacing his staff with agency workers who receive less than minimum wage.

Mr Rafferty, who is also Scottish Secretary of Unite the Union, urged trade union members to boycott P&O Ferries until the dispute had been resolved.

During her speech to the congress later in the day, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her anger at the P&O situation, saying the treatment of workers was “disgusting and despicable”.

“Companies that behave in this way should not get away with it,” she added.

“Condemnation – and words – is important but it is not enough.

“We must unite here in Scotland to make clear that companies will not get away with behaviour like that.”

The First Minister went on to call for employment law to be devolved to Scotland.

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