The boss of P&O Ferries has said he will not reverse the decision to sack 800 workers despite being thrown a final lifeline from the UK’s transport secretary.
Peter Hebblethwaite said the U-turn would lead to the loss of a total of 3,000 workers instead, and could cause the company’s collapse.
He highlighted that the request from Grant Shapps to reinstate workers “ignores the situation’s fundamental and factual realities”.
"Complying with your requests would deliberately cause the company's collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs,” the letter to the secretary of state said.
“I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”
Today, we have written to the Secretary of State for Transport in response to his latest letter. pic.twitter.com/XbLWSHKgS1
— P&O Ferries (@POferries) March 29, 2022
He added that he could not delay Thursday’s deadline for seafarers to decide whether to accept redundancy offers, as more than 765 of the 786 affected crew members had already “taken steps to accept the settlement offer”.
More than 500 people had signed legally binding agreements, including 67 officers who were planning to continue to work on P&O’s vessels with the new agency crew.
“These are legally binding agreements, and crew members who have entered them will rightly expect us to comply with their terms,” he said.
It came in response to a letter from Shapps which gave P&O “one further opportunity to reverse this decision by immediately offering all 800 workers their jobs back”.
The transport secretary is now expected to announce a plan to parliament on Wednesday that will tighten employment laws for ship operators in Britain, and tackle minimum pay.
Meanwhile, Hebblethwaite has faced mounting calls to resign from his position after the decision to sack staff without notice or consulting unions, which broke the law. However, he said he would not resign from the firm as he was “untenable”.
He said he felt compelled "to discharge my duties for this historical company" and provide "the effective operation of the trade routes upon which this country depends".
"I will continue to do my utmost to ensure that this company has a sustainable business for the future."
P&O first made the shock announcement it was firing 800 employees earlier this month, replacing them with cheaper agency workers in a bid to shore up its finances. The agency workers will be earning an average of £5.50 per hour, less than the UK minimum wage, which has provoked anger from trade unions and politicians.
The company said at the time of the decision that it had made a loss of £100m ($130.7m) year-on-year, and that its survival was dependent on making “swift and significant changes now”.
Sailings currently remain suspended on passenger routes. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency detained a second vessel belonging to P&O Ferries following a safety inspection this week. The Pride Of Kent is being held at the Port of Dover.
Another of the firm’s ships, European Causeway, remains under detention in Larne, Northern Ireland, after failing an inspection due to issues including crew familiarisation and training.
Watch: P&O Ferries: Shapps threatens to block company's 'brazen' sackings and tells company its reputation 'is in tatters'