UK launches criminal investigation into P&O Ferries crew firings

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Friday’s announcement by the British government stated that an investigation was underway into P&O Ferries. The company had fired nearly 800 U.K.-based workers without warning in order to be replaced with cheaper contract employees.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary, stated that the Insolvency Service has opened “formal criminal-civil investigations.”

Dubai-owned company admits it violated the law by failing to consult unions prior to the March 17 mass firings. However, Peter Hebblethwaite, chief executive, stated that there was no way to stop the ferry operator going under.

Although the British government has pledged to reverse the sackings, its options seem limited. According to the British government, it plans to introduce legislation that will force P&O Ferries and other companies to pay the U.K. min wage on land as well as at sea. British ports have been asked to refuse to take seafarers on board who are paid less than the U.K. minimum wages. This was raised to 9.50 Pounds ($12.45 an hour) Friday.

Hebblethwaite stated that the average hourly pay for the agency crew of ferries is 5.50 Pounds ($7.20).

Dubai government-owned DP World has a subsidiary that runs the company. The staff changes were necessary to save the business, and protect 2200 jobs, after the business suffered losses of hundreds of millions of pounds over the past two year.

However, the move was reacted with outrage by politicians and unions. This is especially true considering that P&O received millions in British government aid during COVID-19.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that he was happy with the criminal investigation.

He said that he had called for the resignation of the P&O chief executive after telling Parliament in shame that he knew he had broken the law. It was right that the company be held accountable for its actions.