Criminal and civil probes launched into P&O sackings

Criminal and civil investigations have been launched into the decision by P&O Ferries to sack nearly 800 workers.

The company was widely criticised for making the seafarers redundant without notice on March 17.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Insolvency Service has started “formal criminal and civil investigations”.

The Insolvency Service said: “Following its inquiries, the Insolvency Service has commenced formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the recent redundancies made by P&O Ferries.

Former P&O workers protest with union colleagues at the Port of Larne, Co. Antrim. The ferry company laid off 800 workers across the UK last week. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

“As these are ongoing investigations, no further comment or information can be provided at this time.”

P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite told a joint hearing of the Commons’ business and transport committees that his company broke the law by not consulting with trade unions before sacking workers.

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unveiled a package of measures in response to the sackings.

They included plans to create “minimum wage corridors” on ferry routes between the UK and other countries.

He also urged UK ports to refuse access to boats carrying seafarers paid below the minimum wage, and asked the Insolvency Service to consider disqualifying Mr Hebblethwaite from acting as a company director.

Mr Shapps said: “I welcome the Insolvency Service’s decision to put P&O Ferries under criminal investigation.

“I have called for the P&O chief executive to step down after he shamelessly told Parliament he had knowingly broken the law, and it is right the company is held to account for its actions.

“The nine-point plan I announced this week will strengthen seafarers’ employment rights, and my department will fully co-operate with the review to ensure maritime workers are protected from anything like this happening again.”

Mr Hebblethwaite insisted the company would not have survived without taking the action it did.

He told MPs the average pay of the agency crew is £5.50 per hour.

That is below the UK’s minimum wage but Mr Hebblethwaite said this is permitted under international maritime laws.

Workers from Northern Ireland have been amongst those impacted by the company’s decision, with several protests having been held since private security officers were sent on to a ship docked at Larne to remove staff.