P&O Ferries face criminal and civil investigations into mass sacking of 800 staff

1 April 2022, 14:47 | Updated: 1 April 2022, 16:42

P&O Ferries face criminal and civil investigations into the sacking of 800 staff
P&O Ferries face criminal and civil investigations into the sacking of 800 staff. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The Insolvency Service has started formal criminal and civil investigations into the decision by P&O Ferries to sack nearly 800 workers, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said.

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It comes after the company was widely criticised for making the seafarers redundant without notice on March 17.

The Insolvency Service said: "Following its enquiries, I can confirm that the Insolvency Service has initiated both formal criminal and civil investigations into the circumstances surrounding the recent redundancies made by P&O Ferries.

"We will publish a short statement today confirming the above position and as you will appreciate, whilst these investigations are being progressed. It would not be appropriate for me to make further comment at this time. I will provide a further update in due course."

Read more: Protesters at UK ports call for P&O Ferries boss to quit after sacking 800 staff

Read more: P&O Ferries boss admits firm 'chose' to break the law by sacking 800 workers

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter: "The Insolvency Service has reviewed P&O Ferries' actions and placed it under criminal investigation for its actions.

"Peter Hebblethwaite stood before MPs and admitted to breaking the law, and his actions must now be scrutinised."

P&O Ferries sackings could constitute a criminal offence with an unlimited fine

P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite previously admitted during 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.

It came after Mr Hebblethwaite revealed the average hourly pay of P&O Ferries' new 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.

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."

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