P&O Ferries has insisted it has committed no wrongdoing by sacking almost 800 workers without notice as it announces what it says is believed to be the biggest compensation scheme in the UK shipping industry .
MPs had sought confirmation that laws had not been broken with the dismissal and said the situation, which had caused widespread outrage, had raised questions about UK employment law.
But P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite said all the vessels involved were registered outside the UK and the relevant authorities in each case had been notified.
In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng dated March 22, Hebblethwaite said “the very clear legal obligation in the particular circumstances that applied was for each company to notify the appropriate authority in the state where the vessel is registered”.
He wrote that the notification had been made to the proper authorities on March 17 and that no offense had been committed regarding the notification to the Secretary of State.
He said the company was “painfully aware” of the “distress” caused to workers and their families being made redundant without warning or consultation, but added that this course of action was taken as a “last resort”.
Hebblethwaite was invited to attend a testimony session jointly organized by the Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Transport Committees on Thursday, which will examine the options available to the UK government and workers who have lost their jobs.
In a statement, committee chairs Darren Jones and Huw Merriman said: “This shocking story has raised questions about UK labor law, safety practices, support for this business during a pandemic and available remedies. .
“We intend to hear from the main players on what they are going to do to ensure that these workers are not left dry.”
P&O Ferries has announced it is offering more than £36million in compensation to redundant staff, with 40 employees awaiting payments of over £100,000.
He said the payments would be linked to the period of service and in some cases would exceed £170,000.
The total value of the settlement is £36,541,648, with no worker to receive less than £15,000, the company said.
Employees are also supported in finding a new job at sea or on land.
The ferry giant said 575 of the 786 seafarers affected are in discussions to advance redundancy offers.
A spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: ‘It has been an incredibly difficult decision for the company to make that choice or face corporate takeover.
“It would have meant the loss of 3,000 jobs and the end of P&O Ferries.
“By making this difficult choice, we have secured the future viability of P&O Ferries, avoided large-scale and long-lasting disruption, and secured Britain’s trading capacity.”
The company said that, subject to the settlement agreement, it would pay 2.5 weeks of uncapped wages for each year of employment, instead of the statutory week or 1.5 weeks.
It also offers 13 weeks pay in lieu of notice and 13 weeks extra pay in the absence of consultation.
But Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said ‘severance pay is not compensation’, adding ‘it is just a payment to which staff are contractually entitled because no notice has not been given”. ”,.
Last week Kwarteng wrote to Hebblethwaite to say P&O Ferries had ‘lost public trust’ and ‘gave the business a bad name’.
A BEIS spokesperson said on Tuesday: ‘We have received a response to the Business Secretary’s letter to P&O and are reviewing their explanations.
“We will continue to work quickly with the Insolvency Service to determine if legal action is necessary and will provide an update as soon as possible.
“Given recent reports that staff are being paid below the national minimum wage, the Business Secretary has also asked the Employment Agency’s Standards Inspectorate to investigate the terms of workers’ contracts. interims.”
The Nautilus union said that “P&O Ferries’ brazen actions now extend to trying to get out of a legal situation denounced by the unions, obligation to report to the Secretary of State and to consult recognized unions”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady insisted ministers ‘must fall on P&O like a ton of bricks’, adding: ‘If P&O is allowed to get away with a slap on the wrist, it will be a green light for employers up and down the earth to treat staff as disposable labour.
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