The chief executive of the ferry company, which made 800 workers redundant via a pre-recorded video, was heavily criticised by MSPs.
29 March 2022
The chief executive of P&O Ferries has been accused of “corporate terrorism” after sacking 800 seafarers.
Peter Hebblethwaite appeared before the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee on Tuesday, and was repeatedly lambasted by MSPs for the company’s decision, which he insisted saved thousands of jobs.
Despite telling the committee he did not receive a pay cut, Mr Hebblethwaite stressed it was “not all about the money” for new agency staff – some of whom will be paid an average of just £5.50 per hour.
Labour MSP, Monica Lennon, took the chief executive, who repeatedly said there had been misleading reporting around the scandal, to task over the issue.
“We know that you fired 800 experienced workers with an average service of 20 years,” she said.
“You sent in security guards with balaclavas and handcuffs – it is an extreme act of corporate terrorism.”
Ms Lennon went on to say that a Westminster committee deemed Mr Hebblethwaite not to be a “fit and proper person”, before asking when he will resign.
“I want to be absolutely clear that there is a lot of press that is frankly inaccurate,” Mr Hebblethwaite replied.
“We did employ a security firm of professionals to keep our ships safe, but much, much more importantly, our people safe at a very emotional time for them.
“The facts of the day (are) no balaclavas, none of those things that were reported on and there wasn’t a single incident – not one – of anybody being hurt, of anything inappropriate happening.”
He went on to say he had “no plans” to resign from his post.
P&O Ferries has made moves to “reduce the cost of our senior management by as much, or more, as we have other parts of the business,” he added, with some of the high level managers taking as much as a 50% pay cut.
Mr Hebblethwaite said he had not received a pay cut.
New agency staff who are not officers that will work on P&O’s vessels will receive an average of £5.50 per hour, which is in line with international standards, but Mr Hebblethwaite said seafaring was about more than money.
“I don’t think that seafaring is all about money, I think people love it and that’s one of the main reasons I regret so much the difficult decision we had to make,” he said.
When asked by SNP MSP, Natalie Don, if he would work for the wages being paid to some staff, he said: “I chose a particular career and a particular way through that and it has led to me sitting here answering questions – totally appropriately positioned questions – about a very difficult decision that I have had to make.
“I didn’t choose a path that led to me being a seafarer.”
The chief executive was also quizzed by Tory MSP, Liam Kerr, who asked what would happen should employment tribunals mandate the reinstatement of the sacked staff.
“Our assessment was that we wouldn’t get to that situation,” he said.
“A forceful reinstatement of our previous model would have put us straight back into the position where this is a business that would close.”
He added: “We did fail to consult and we’re compensating people in full for that and we’re doing everything we are required to do.”
Drawing the meeting to a close, committee deputy convener, Fiona Hyslop, said: “In my 20-plus years as a member of the Scottish Parliament, I am not sure I have come across an issue with an employer that has united – unilaterally right across the chamber – such hostility.
“The people that we represent, our constituents, even those who are not in the south of Scotland, or in Cairnryan, are absolutely disgusted and dismayed that a company of your reputation and your shareholders’ reputation has treated people with such disrespect and lack of dignity at work.”
She added: “I now close the public part of the meeting, I wish everyone a restful Easter break, unfortunately, that will not be the case for the many P&O workers that have suffered at the hands of this chief executive.”