Grant Shapps to hold talks with P&O rivals to avoid Easter chaos

Grant Shapps will hold crisis talks with P&O Ferries’ rival operators this week in bid to avoid Easter travel chaos with under-fire firm unable to restart services after sacking of 800 staff

  • Grant Shapps will meet with DFDS and Stena Line after P&O’s mass sacking
  • Discussions also expected over plans to introduce minimum wage legislation 
  • It comes as agency staff with P&O were earning an average of just £5.50 an hour
  • P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite also facing calls from MPs to resign

Grant Shapps will hold crisis talks with rival operators of P&O Ferries this week as the Government fights to avoid chaos at UK ports over the Easter holidays.

The Transport Secretary will meet with DFDS and Stena Line on Monday after P&O’s millionaire chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted the company ‘chose’ to break the law when it sacked nearly 800 workers last week.

DFDS, one of Europe’s largest shipping operators, is likely to be asked to fill the void left by P&O until Government officials sign off on the use of ferries staffed by agency workers.

Meanwhile, Swedish operator Stena has already laid on extra ships between Britain and Ireland.

It comes after a after a ship operated by the ferry firm was detained for being ‘unfit to sail’ in Northern Ireland amid concerns it was trying to ‘rush inexperienced crew through training’.

Discussions are also expected to take place over the future of P&O and plans to speedily introduce new legislation ensuring seafarers will be covered by the UK minimum wage.

Mr Shapps is understood to be holding meetings with the French and Dutch Governments for minimum wage commitments to cover ‘foreign flagged’ ships, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

The new laws will be tabled in Parliament this week after Mr Shapps said ferry operators were using a ‘loophole’ to pay employees less than the hourly wage of £8.91 – with agency staff earning an average of £5.50.

It comes as Mr Hebblethwaite has faced calls from MPs to resign from his ‘untenable’ position during a dramatic joint evidence session in Parliament this week.   

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured on Wednesday) will hold meetings with the rivals of P&O after calling for its chief executive to resign

Peter Hebblethwaite, P&O Ferries chief executive, answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commmons earlier this week

Irish trade union workers during a rally at Dublin Port outside the P&O terminal to send support to the hunderds of seafarers sacked in recent days

The P&O Ferries operated European Causeway vessel in dock at the Port of Larne, Co Antrim, where it was been detained by authorities for being ‘unfit to sail’

‘I’d do it again’: What P&O Ferries’ millionaire boss Peter Hebblethwaite told MPs while giving evidence

The chief executive, who is paid £325,000 to run P&O Ferries and lives in a plush Cotswold farmhouse worth more than £1.5million, also told the session that he ‘would do it again’ – and refused to say if he could live on the new workers’ £5.50 hourly wage.

However, he allegedly told sacked staff the following morning that ‘this type of dismissal could not and would not happen again’. 

Commons business committee chair Darren Jones said he ‘should be fined, struck off and prosecuted’.

Labour has written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng asking whether the Government will seek the removal of P&O Ferries’ chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite as a director under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. 

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said the ‘shameful misconduct of P&O Ferries has ruined livelihoods’ as she called for the sacked workers to be reinstated and for Mr Hebblethwaite to be ‘barred’ as a director for his role in the crisis.

Protests have been taking place at UK ports over the last week in solidarity with those who lost their jobs.

Protestors and union members have gathered at ports in Liverpool, Hull and Dover to blockade the entrances.

Some demonstrators were seen carrying banners saying ‘Save our seafarers’ while others demanded that P&O’s ferries be ‘seized’.  

Protests are taking place at ports in Liverpool, Hull and Dover over the sacking of hundreds of seafarers by P&O Ferries, as calls grow for the company’s boss to quit. Pictured: Protests at the port of Liverpool

The demonstrations come after a ship operated by the ferry firm was detained for being ‘unfit to sail’ in Northern Ireland. 

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the ship, named the European Causeway, had been detained in Larne, Northern Ireland last week ‘based on concerns over its safety’ and to ‘prevent them going to sea’.

The discussions are also likely to involve the long-term impact of minimum wage for employees amid concerns P&O’s Dubai owners could fold the business after claiming it needs to cut staff costs.

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