The head of P&O Ferries should resign immediately after he admitted knowingly breaking the law in the mass dismissal of 800 employees, Grant Shapps said.
The transport secretary said chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite had displayed “brazen, astonishing and unbelievable arrogance” in comments he made in parliament on Thursday.
Mr Hebblethwaite told MPs there was “absolutely no question” that P&O Ferries should consult with unions before sacking hundreds of staff at the site, but decided against it. He also admitted that most seafarers who replace redundant workers are paid below the UK national minimum wage.
Shapps told BBC Breakfast on Friday that the P&O Ferries boss should resign.
“The idea that you come to parliament, you admit that you deliberately set out to break the law, it is not an accident or a mistake, to lay off your staff and bring in people on low minimum wages and that you will buy staff to do that, it is simply unacceptable,” he said.
The transport secretary also told Sky News: “I thought what the chief said yesterday about knowingly breaking the law was blatant, impressive, unbelievable arrogance.
“I can’t believe I can say in that role, having admitted that he deliberately went out and used a loophole, well, he broke the law, but he also used a loophole.”
He added: “What they did was they blew their boats through Cyprus, they avoided having to tell anyone about this, or felt they did, and even though they know they have broken the law, what they have done is bribe people. in such a way to try to buy his silence. It is unacceptable”.
Shapps said the government plans to change the law to ensure companies working in British ports pay people the minimum wage.
Pressed on Thursday by MPs on the average hourly wage of £5.50 an hour for most replacement workers, Mr Hebblethwaite said: “Where we are governed by the national minimum wage, we will absolutely pay the national minimum wage .
“This is an international shipping model that is consistent with models around the world and with our competitors.”
The chief executive, when asked if he would make the same decision again in retrospect, said: “Before we were not viable, and I know that if we had not made radical changes, the business would have gone out of business, and I apologize for that.” .
“But genuinely, that wouldn’t have been 800 layoffs with substantial severance packages, it would have been 3,000 people losing their jobs.”
Later, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Shapps accused P&O Ferries of trying to ‘buy silence’ from its staff about the mass redundancies.
He said: “What they have done is pay, or try to pay, their staff with higher severance packages… and thereby buy their silence.
“We cannot have a situation where laws are creatively used, or abused in this case, to circumvent what Parliament clearly intends to do. We have a (National) Minimum Wage Law.
“They marked, for example, their boats in Cyprus so they didn’t have to warn us about this. I mean, it’s completely irresponsible. It’s completely wrong.”