‘Rocking the boat’: the disgrace of P&O Ferries

“What does a CEO have to do to get fired these days,” Oliver Shah asked The Sunday Times. P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite appears to be “doing his best”. He finally admitted last week before a committee of MPs that the company had a legal obligation to consult unions before laying off 800 seafarers – but had “choose not to” and would do the same again. No union, he said, could “possibly accept” such mass layoffs. For most corporate leaders, such blatant disregard for the law would be “ominous.” But Hebblethwaite appears to continue to enjoy the support of DP World, P&O’s parent company in Dubai. And why not? As long as he “remains a comfortable human sponge that soaks up indignation,” he remains useful. Then he too is thrown aside. If you want to see who is really responsible, look beyond P&O’s “Captain’s Misfortune” to its “Overlord”, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem.

Hebblethwaite claimed P&O Ferries would not be viable unless it replaced its British crew with foreign agency workers paying just £5.15 an hour, Nils Pratley said The guard. No doubt he’s right about the millions P&O has lost amid the pandemic and energy crisis. But this is a “brazen attempt” to suggest that protecting a wealthy parent company’s investment “is more important than complying with the law.” Seafarers, meanwhile, have found an “unlikely ally”, Oliver Gill said in The Daily Telegraph. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps not only wants the 800 P&O workers reinstated; He is also determined to push through “changes that will force all ferry operators to pay the minimum wage”, which will be above £9.50 an hour from April. This would close a gap in labor law that ferry operators have been exploiting for years by registering abroad.

If nothing else the P&O debacle has made it clear that the law needs an overhaul, Sarah O’Connor said in FT. The layoffs have “belied the narrative” that post-Brexit Britain would “take back control” to create “a high-wage economy” where workers are not undercut by low-paid migrants. If Shapps has his way, “fares will certainly go up,” Alistair Osborne said The times. “But there are safety risks in manning ships with underpaid staff.” Hebblethwaite appears to have given the minister’s call for P&O workers to be reinstated with a “two-fingered” salute. So why not revoke the operating license? Or threaten DP World with millions of dollars in tax breaks to operate two planned free ports in London and Southampton. Unless P&O “stop rocking the boat” ministers should “go ahead” with the plan. ‘Rocking the boat’: the disgrace of P&O Ferries

Fry Electronics Team

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