P&O CEO confirms £5.50 staff wages in car-crash committee appearance

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During an appearance at the UK Transport Select Committee hearing today, Peter Hebblethwaite, CEO of P&O, confirmed that the company's new agency staff will be paid just £5.50 per hour. This is above the ITF Minimum Wage for Seafarers, but also well below the UK minimum wage of £9.50 that will apply from April 1st.

P&O CEO confirms £5.50 staff wages in car-crash committee appearance
Photo © Copyright Billy McCrorie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Hebblethwaite provided more details on P&O’s new low-wage operating model after being repeatedly grilled by MPs at today’s UK Transport Select Committee hearing.

£5.50 per hour wages for seafarers

When quizzed on how much the ferry company’s new staff would be paid, Hebblethwaite said:

“The average hourly rate of pay is £5.50. On top of that, there is a pension contribution, there is food and accomodation. There are international routes that are governed by ITF standards. There we are paying above ITF minimum wages, and on our domestic routes, which I think were referenced earlier, Larne-Cairnryan, where we are governed by national minimum wage, of course we are paying national minimum wage.”

Keen to emphasise that the lower-paid staff would still be able to provide a safe, professional service, Hebblethwaite said: “These are very, very experienced, fully certified, professional, international seafarers,” only to be interrupted by one MP who shouted “Pay them decent wages then!”

The P&O boss also repeated the line on several occasions that radical changes were the only way to keep the company afloat:

“If we hadn’t made radical changes, the business would have closed. I know I keep repeating it, and I apologize for that, but genuinely there would not have been 800 redundancies with substantial severance packages – there would have been 3,000 people losing their jobs and the impact on 3,000 people throughout multiple nationalities.”

Here, it is nonetheless also important to point out that many other maritime companies have been using similar business models to keep their costs down. For example, in May of last year it was reported that staff on a Panama-registered ship operating in waters surrounding the UK were paid around £3.94 per hour.

CEO seemingly admits P&O broke the law

Besides revealing how little P&O seafarers would be paid, Hebblethwaite also appeared to openly admit that P&O had not consulted unions in the manner that is required by UK law.

When questioned about whether P&O’s actions were legal, the CEO told MPs: “There is absolutely no doubt that we were required to consult with the unions.” Hebblethwaite was then interrupted and told “You chose to broke the law!” Next, the ferry boss continued: “We chose not to consult; we are and we will compensate everybody in full for that.”

One MP who later questioned Hebblethwaite was stunned by the admission, saying: “That’s quite amazing, isn’t it? You’re coming to this parliament and putting your hands up and saying you willfully chose to break the law.” Another committee member also referred to the CEO’s answers as “farcical” while others looked on in aghast at what they had heard.

P&O boss feels company can recover from damage to its image

Since P&O’s actions came to light, many international hauliers and would-be passengers declared that they would boycott the ferry firm.

Some have speculated that the damage to its image could even be terminal. However, despite admitting P&O’s reputation had “taken a hit”, Hebblethwaite answered optimistically when an MP asked him if he thought people would travel with P&O after what it had done:

“I really do. I think it will take a while; I do think that there is a hit to our business. And again, I’m incredibly sorry. But we do have a future – we do have a business that is now competitive, that now can meet customer needs and can pay its bills.”

Meanwhile, P&O has confirmed that its Dover-Calais, Larne-Cairnryan and Hull-Europoort services all remain suspended. It isn’t known precisely when they will be up and running again.

Hebblethwaite alleges UK Transport Minister knew to expect redundancies

Another stand-out development during today’s hearing was the allegation from P&O’s CEO that the Transport Minister knew in advance that redundancies were possible. It was suggested that Grant Shapps learned of this during a November 2021 meeting with the CEO of P&O owners DP World.

According to Joel Hills of ITV News, a government source has since said the claim is “another one of P&O’s lies.” Writing on Twitter, Hills nonetheless adds that minutes of meeting show that DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said “there’s a new low-cost competitor, this poses challenges in respect of P&O’s operations”.

The “new-low competitor” would likely be Irish Ferries, who started operating on the Dover-Calais route last spring.

Unions continue to keep the heat on P&O

As expected, unions are still furious over P&O’s actions. The RMT Union has even called for P&O’s vessels to be impounded until all the staff who were made redundant have their jobs back. Moreover, The International Transport Workers’ Federation has stressed that P&O ferries “must face the consequences for their illegal actions” and that the UK government must act.

Further demonstrations to show solidarity with the dismissed staff are also due to be held this Saturday at 1pm in Hull.


Photo © Copyright Billy McCrorie and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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