Government ministers have pledged to bring “a package of measures” to Parliament next week to try to prevent companies from following the example of P&O Ferries, which abruptly sacked almost 800 seafarers on March 17.
The company prompted outrage and fury with the summary dismissals of British workers, who are being replaced by agency staff on average hourly rates of £5.50.
Peter Hebblethwaite, P&O Ferries’ chief executive, admitted to MPs at a joint select committee hearing on Thursday (March 24) that the company knowingly broke the law by not consulting with unions before dismissing the staff.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked ministers at the hearing: “The problem here is that this company has broken the law because it knows it can get away with it, because the legal remedies are capped. Are you going to do something about that?”
Maritime minister Robert Courts MP said: “We are looking to bring forward a package that will stop this situation from happening, to make sure people are treated with, not only the respect, but to give them the protection they deserve.
“I can’t go into the detail of what that might be at the moment. We’ll look at all options.”
Bradshaw also asked if an interim injunction can be issued, given the admission that P&O Ferries broke the law.
Paul Scully MP, minister for labour markets, said he could not pre-empt action that might be taken by the Insolvency Service which has been asked to investigate the matter.
Huw Merriman MP, the chair of the transport committee, asked the ministers: “Have you considered an injunction; basically they have just told us they breached the law, they decided to do that. Have you assessed whether there are any powers that exist with the department lawyers to injunct them, to stop them breaking the law?”
Michael Warren, director of labour markets at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said no powers to injunct have been discovered, which is why officials have asked the Insolvency Service to take a “full look” at the legal options based on their assessment of what laws have been broken or not.
Hebblethwaite had earlier told the committee that the average sacked seafarer salary was £36,000 and they will receive about £46,000 in compensation.
Scully pointed out that individual sacked workers and their representatives can approach tribunals over the dismissals, adding: “Some people may actually be satisfied with the enhanced offer.”
Courts said he had planned an introductory meeting with Hebblethwaite in February but the CEO had cancelled it and there had been no response to requests for alternative dates.
Another committee member, Andy McDonald MP, later tweeted: “I’ve never heard such farcical answers as those of the @POferries CEO. They expose how the system is totally skewed against working people. Thanks to such pitifully weak employment protections under this Conservative government, big bosses are able to get away with murder.”
Picture credit: Parliamentlive.tv