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P&O Ferries CEO Admits He Couldn’t Survive on Staff’s £4.87 Hourly Wage Amid Ongoing Pay Controversy



P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite admits that the £4.87-per-hour wage paid to some employees is not enough for him to live on. Despite this, he informed a group of MPs that his company's wages surpass global norms.

Business correspondent @taaffems

Tuesday, May 7, 2024, 3:

The head of P&O Ferries, which garnered attention for dismissing almost 800 employees only to rehire them, has admitted that he would not be able to survive on the under £5-per-hour wages that some of his employees earn.

P&O Ferries' CEO, Peter Hebblethwaite, disclosed to the Commons' Business and Trade Committee that the company is compensating its staff with an average wage of £5.20 per hour. This comes two years after the firm laid off 786 employees and subsequently employed less expensive labor.

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Mr. Hebblethwaite revealed that certain workers receive wages as meager as £4.87 per hour, while committee members showed evidence that some employees were compensated just £2.90 per hour for their initial eight hours of work.

In the discussion, committee chair Liam Byrne posed a question to Mr. Hebblethwaite: "Could you manage to survive on £4.87 per hour?"

Mr. Hebblethwaite responded, "No, I couldn't," and then disclosed that his total earnings last year were £508,000, which included a bonus of £183,000.

The CEO admitted that the pay was too low to live on, but he also noted that the wages were "significantly higher than global minimum standards."

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"We are hiring these global maritime workers directly or through our recruiting partners from a worldwide pool, and our compensation significantly exceeds the global minimum wage for seafarers," he further stated.

As of last month, the minimum wage in the UK has been set at £11.44 for individuals aged 21 and older.

P&O Ferries employs maritime staff through an international agency, and these employees work on ships that are registered in foreign countries and operate in international waters, hence the standard rates are not applicable.

During his previous testimony to the committee in March 2022, Mr. Hebblethwaite stated that employees of P&O Ferries would earn a minimum of £5.15 per hour.

"He noted on Tuesday that individuals capable of working on any ship across the globe opt to join us and frequently decide to return."

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Controversy Surrounding Fire-and-Rehire Practices

Mr. Hebblethwaite stated that P&O Ferries has continuously adhered to both national and international regulations, even though the company terminated almost 800 employees in March 2022.

The government is currently examining that decision.

A criminal probe by the insolvency service wrapped up in August 2022, deciding against initiating criminal proceedings. However, a civil investigation by the same government agency is still in progress.

"Mr. Hepplethwaite noted, 'I verified the legality of this decision.' He continued, 'That doesn't mean I don't have regrets. I truly do. I am profoundly apologetic for the effects this had on 786 seafarers and their loved ones. I wish the decision had never been necessary.'"

"We won't choose that option in the future."

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Mr. Hebblethwaite stated that without this action, the functioning of P&O Ferries could have been jeopardized.

"Had I not made that tough choice, I wouldn't be standing here, and we wouldn't have succeeded in saving the 2,000 jobs that we managed to keep."

Stay updated on the most recent developments in the UK and globally by tuning into Sky News.

Employee Protections

Despite facing extensive criticism and scrutiny from political circles, P&O Ferries has yet to endorse a charter for seafarers' rights.

Mr. Hebblethwaite was unsure if employees could disembark from the vessel during a 17-week employment stretch and promised to provide the committee with a response in writing.

"He seems to think so, though he mentioned there are some complexities involved," was his response.

Reacting to the information presented, TUC (Trade Union Congress) leader Paul Nowak expressed astonishment that P&O Ferries has not been penalized for its actions and that its parent company, DP World, still receives government contracts.

"For an extended period, segments of our employment sector have mirrored the lawlessness of the Wild West, where especially many seafarers find themselves extremely vulnerable to severe exploitation and an absence of enforceable rights.

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"We need to modernize our antiquated labor laws to reflect current times. If not, we risk facing another incident similar to the P&O Ferries debacle."

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