Experts in employment law, trade union bosses and CEO of parent company DP World will all speak at this morning’s hearing
Boris Johnson says P&O Ferries ‘has broken law’ and government will ‘take action’
The P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite will face MPs questions this morning, following the firm’s decision to sack 800 seafarers and replace them with cheaper agency workers.
Mr Hebblethwaite will appear before a joint hearing of the transport and business committees after MPs and unions alike questioned the legality of the dismissals, which were issued over a recorded video message without notice.
Yesterday Boris Johnson said it appeared to him that the firm had broken the law.
Speaking during prime minister’s questions, he said: “We will not sit by, because under section 194 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992 it looks to me as though the company concerned has broken the law.”
It emerged yesterday that P&O was able to legally sack 800 staff without informing the government because of a law change brought in by Chris Grayling.
While transport secretary, Mr Grayling amended legislation meant to protect workers to create an exemption where there are mass redundancies on ships registered overseas.
Meanwhile no P&O Ferries vessels are sailing between Dover and Calais.
Rival DFDS says: “Due to the disruption to P&O services currently, we are accepting tourist customers with a vehicle booking until further notice. Please bring your P&O booking details to the DFDS check in desks in Dover & Calais for travel on the next available service.”
Read on for the latest news and developments.
‘Those vessels will not leave until we are satisfied that they are safe to operate’
P&O Ferries ships will not carry passengers until they have been thoroughly inspected, MPs have been told.
Katy Ware, director of UK Maritime Services, told MPs: “You have my absolute assurance that we will go into absolute detail to ensure that those crew on board are familiarised, qualified, trained, and that we are satisfied they can operate those ships safely.”
She was responding after Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International, who represents sacked officers, said of the Dover-Calais route: “It’s an incredibly dangerous situation, and you need skilled, qualified, experienced maritime professionals.”
Ms Ware said: “Those vessels will not leave until we are satisfied that they are safe to operate.”
Simon Calder24 March 2022 11:03
RMT boss describes sackings as ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, has described the mass sacking of nearly 800 crew as a “St Patrick’s Day Massacre”.
Speaking to MPs, he said :“We were due to meet them [P&O Ferries] on 18 March about new vessels.
“Instead of honouring our meeting they sacked all our members on St Patrick’s Day [17 March].
“St Patrick’s Day Massacre, you might call it.”
Describing the removal of seafarers from ferries, he said: “Security personnel came on board, in the security outfits, and our members were told they had to leave the ship immediately.
“They were escorted to their lockers and their cabins.”
Mr Lynch said they were made to load their belongings into plastic bags.
“Until they did that they would not receive the packets containing the information about their dismissal.
“There was intimidation in the sense that there were four or five security guards standing around individuals or groups of individuals, saying ‘You must go to your cabin now, clear out your stuff and remove yourself from the vessel’.”
Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International, who represents officers, told MPs: “I’ve just received this morning a photograph of the personal effects of crew that were sacked in bin bags on the deck of the Pride of Kent, by skips – ready to be thrown in the bin, just like the seafarers who’ve lost their jobs.”
Simon Calder24 March 2022 10:41
Channel crossings ‘an incredibly dangerous situation’
Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International, which represents officers, said: “In Dover and Calais, you’re running passenger and freight vessels across the busiest shipping lane in the world. And you’re crossing it at, essentially, right angles. That’s the way it works.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous situation, and you need skilled, qualified, experienced maritime professionals.
“They do 10 crossings a day, and they do 12 hours a day.”
He said P&O Ferries wanted crew to remain on board for two weeks at a time. At present the system is one week on, one week off.
“It could take months, not days, to prepare a crew to safely operate those vessels,” Mr Dickinson said.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “I’ve got no faith that P&O will run these ships safely.”
Simon Calder24 March 2022 10:24
‘The law in this country is a shambles’ – RMT union boss
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, representing most of the P&O Ferries seafarers, said: “Nobody’s discussing, as far as I can see, how we’re going to get these people back to work.
“This company has made flagrant breaches of the law.
“They’ve done it deliberately and they’re factoring in what they’re going to have to pay for it.
“They’re threatening and blackmailing our people that if you do not sign this document by next Thursday, you will be out of work and you will potentially get no award whatsoever. And you have to give up all your legal rights to take this company to task,
“This is absolutely outrageous.
“The law in this country is a shambles.”
Simon Calder24 March 2022 10:11
National minimum wage rules change during voyages
Andrew Burns QC, barrister at Devereaux Chambers, said Parliament “could amend the legislation” for seafarers to ensure that the national minimum wage remains payable on a voyage between Dover to Calais.
“At the moment the national minimum wage will apply only when they are in port [in Dover],” he said.
Jason Chuah, professor of Commercial and Maritime Law at the City Law School, said the national minimum wage rules applied “for the UK sector of the continental shelf”. On a journey from Liverpool to Dublin, the law would change during the sailing.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, asked Alan Bogg, professor of Labour Law at the University of Bristol, if the French and Dutch seafarers had better protection than their British counterparts.
“There are more significant restrictions in place for failures to consult of this kind,” Professor Bogg said.
Simon Calder24 March 2022 10:06
Dismissals ‘so blatant and so outrageous’ – labour law professor
Jason Chuah, professor of commercial and maritime law at the City Law School, said the P&O Ferries vessels are registered in Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
“We are a little bit unsure whether the ‘failure to notify’ would attract any sanctions under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.”
Andrew Burns QC, barrister at Devereaux Chambers, said Centrica and British Airways had successfully consulted with unions and reached “fire and rehire” deals – engaging staff on inferior terms to enable the business to consider.
Alan Bogg, professor of Labour Law at the University of Bristol, said there appear to be multiple breaches of redundancy rules. He called the dismissals “so blatant and so outrageous”.
“The key issue is the lack of effective remedies,” he said.
“It’s very unusual for a company not to attempt it at all.”
Simon Calder24 March 2022 09:53
Seafarers could claim back some pay, says labour law expert
Andrew Burns QC, barrister at Devereaux Chambers, says he does not know whether P&O Ferries has broken the law.
“In broad terms, all employers must give notice [of redundancies] to the appropriate authorities 45 days in advance,” he told Simon Jupp, Tory MP for East Devon.
“It may be that they [P&O Ferries] are liable for a prosecution.”
He added that seafarers could have individual claims against the ferry firm to 90 days’ pay.
They could also be entitled to be transferred to the agency that P&O Ferries has engaged to crew its ships.
Simon Calder24 March 2022 09:42
Watch live as P&O boss faces MP questions
The joint select committee meeting – involving the transport select committee and the business select committee – has begun.
You can watch it here:
Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
Simon Calder24 March 2022 09:34
What time will P&O boss face MPs today?
It begins at 9.30am in the Grimond Room of Portcullis House, across the road from the Palace of Westminster. MPs led by committee chair Huw Merriman – an independently minded Conservative – will grill the boss of P&O Ferries, a senior executive of the parent company DP World, union officials and a pair of junior ministers.
The running order:
9.30am: The warm-up act involves two academics and a lawyer: Alan Bogg, professor of Labour Law at the University of Bristol; Jason Chuah, professor of Commercial and Maritime Law at the City Law School; and Andrew Burns QC, barrister at Devereaux Chambers.
10am: A brace of trade union general secretaries: Mick Lynch of the RMT union, representing most of the seafarers, and Mark Dickinson of Nautilus International, who represents officers.
10.30am: Background on the maritime and financial insolvency worlds from Katy Ware, director of UK Maritime Services; Brian Johnson, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency; and Dean Beale, chief executive of the Insolvency Service.
11am: The main event: Peter Hebblethwaite, chief executive of P&O Ferries, who has not spoken publicly since the redundancies; and Jesper Kristensen, chief operations officer at DP World, the parent company.
11.45am: The government strikes back, with junior transport minister Robert Courts and junior business minister Paul Scully.
They will be joined by two top civil servants: John Connell, deputy director for Maritime Operations at the Department for Transport; and Michael Warren, director of Labour Markets at the Department for Business.
Simon Calder24 March 2022 09:26
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