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by Louise Wilson
29 March 2022
P&O: When will you resign, MSPs ask ferry firm boss

P&O: When will you resign, MSPs ask ferry firm boss

The boss of under-fire ferry firm P&O has been urged to resign after the company sacked nearly 800 workers without consulting with trade unions, in a breach of UK employment law.

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite was accused of carrying out “an extreme act of corporate terrorism” by Labour MSP Monica Lennon while being quizzed by Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

Lennon added: “You are not a fit and proper person to run a company that operates critical national infrastructure. When will you resign?”

But Hebblethwaite repeatedly insisted sacking seafarers was a “necessary decision”, though he said he was “personally and deeply sorry” for the impact this would have on the individuals and their families.

Almost 800 workers were sacked by P&O via a pre-recorded video message two weeks ago.

The firm failed to consult with unions about the job losses, in violation of employment law, and must now pay compensation.

Hebblethwaite said the decision was taken because the firm believed no union would accept the proposed changes.

He confirmed 765 former members of staff had now accepted the compensation proposal.

But in fiery exchanges between the CEO and the committee, several MSPs questioned his position at the head of the company.

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “You accept that you wilfully, consciously and knowingly broke the law. You offended against UK employment law, a law which parliament felt so important that it attached a protecting award to it to try and mandate compliance. Doesn’t that trouble you as a company director and make you question whether you are truly a fit and proper person?”

And committee convener Fiona Hyslop asked whether the CEO had any “regret” or “shame” for his actions.

Hebblethwaite replied: “I don’t think this is about me personally. This is about saving an organisation, saving thousands of jobs. I regret the impact this has had, absolutely I regret the impact that has had on 800 seafarers and their families.”

P&O halted all UK operations following the announcement to cut jobs in order to restructure its business.

That included the route between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Hebblethwaite was unable to say when services from Cairnryan port would resume as new crews needed to undergo health and safety training.

“No ships will go out or should go out that are anything less than absolutely safe,” he added.

He also confirmed there was no plan to sack any land-based P&O staff based at Cairnryan.

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