Grant Shapps suggests legislation will 'block' P&O Ferries paying less than minimum wage

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has written to the boss of P&O Ferries suggesting that he wants to “block” the company paying workers less than the minimum wage.

It is thought that the Government will soon lay out legislation designed to prevent any staff working on ships that dock in the UK being paid less than the minimum wage, after P&O sacked almost 800 staff and replaced them with crew being paid an average of £5.50 an hour.

In a letter to P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite this morning, Mr Shapps also said he thought the CEO’s position was “untenable” and called on him to offer the sacked workers their jobs back on their old terms.

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“The past week has left the reputation of P&O Ferries and, I’m afraid, you personally in tatters,” the note said.

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

“Not only were your letters of 22 March to the Business Secretary and myself wholly unsatisfactory, your appearance at the Transport Select Committee, during which you brazenly admitted to breaking employment law, demonstrated beyond doubt your contempt for workers who have given years of service to your company.

“There is no excuse for this behaviour, and as I said publicly on Friday, I believe your position as chief executive, and indeed as a company director, has become untenable.”

Mr Shapps added: “I will be bringing a comprehensive package of measures to Parliament to ensure that seafarers are protected against these types of actions in the way that Parliament and this Government already intended.

"Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage.”

He also said Mr Hebblethwaite should offer “all 800 workers their jobs back on their previous terms, conditions and wages.”

The news comes as the bosses of two of P&O’s rival ferry firms are expected to meet with Government officials today, to try and reduce the impact to passengers over the upcoming Easter break.

The Department for Transport confirmed the meeting is taking place, but declined to comment on the topics for discussion.

But a spokesman said: “Ministers are working to understand how we can ensure the continuation of services in collaboration with other operators, including DFDS and Stena.”