‘National disgrace’ Business secretary slams P&O sackings ‘Against the law!’

P&O sackings ‘national disgrace’ says Jonathan Reynolds

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P&O Ferries made 800 redundancies and left their former employees without a job after sacking them on the spot last week. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also come under fire after it was revealed he knew the sackings were to be taking place the night before. Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds voiced his opinion over the actions of P&O on Tuesday morning and firmly stated he believed the cruise company had broken the law and action needed to be taken.

BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker began: “It has been reported in the last 24 hours that some government ministers were aware that there were going to be moves made by P&O in terms of these sackings before they happened.

“What sort of key questions do you think, particularly the transport secretary Grant Shapps has to answer around that?”

Reynolds explained: “First of all, this is an absolute national disgrace everyone should reject what we have seen on P&O Ferries.

“Good businesses as well they don’t want to see behaviour like this if it’s true that they were replacing the existing crew on £1.80 an hour. How can we build the kind of economy we need on those levels of poverty wages.

“I was in parliament for the statement for the urgent questions, and yes, I was there when the Transport Secretary revealed that he did know the night before.

“I wonder what sort of questions were the government asking, it was clear when the memo was sent to the government this was something out of the ordinary.”

Reynolds continued: “Unfortunately, businesses often have to restructure, and I wouldn’t expect a cabinet member to be told about every case of that.

“But to be told yesterday that they did know in advance what was going on, first of all, they should have moved to stop that, and they can still move to stop that. 

“It is no good saying it will help people get jobs who have been sacked in this way, we cannot allow this to stand because this becomes the template of how these things are done in the UK from now on, and there is no future for good businesses.

“I still want to see the government make absolutely clear to P&O Ferries this is unacceptable behaviour, they will not be allowed to operate in this way.

“I think there is still a window for them to do that, I am so outraged the way this has been done, and I cannot allow and will not allow this kind of behaviour to become the norm in any kind of way.”

Reynolds slammed: “I still think that it is likely that they have broken the law and therefore the sanctions, the criminal sanctions should be very severe in following that up and the need for the government to prosecute that.”

Labour has called for the government to take “criminal action” against P&O Ferries, with Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh saying immediate action must commence “for their flagrant breach of employment law”.

During the urgent questions meeting with MPs, Shapps said: “The way that these 800 loyal and experienced workers were treated by P&O Ferries last week was shameful and utterly unacceptable.

“Of course, we understand the financial pressures that many businesses face right now and regretfully and sometimes redundancies are inescapable, but there is no excuse, no excuse for what we saw occur last Thursday.”

He said he first heard about their movements “at about 8:30pm in the evening” through communications within his private office which indicated “P&O would be making redundancies the next day”.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, which represented many of the 800 staff fired without notice, has alleged the company hired to replace the sacked crew members are being paid the equivalent of just £1.81 an hour.

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour.

Questions have been circulating as to whether the sackings were unlawful, and according to employment lawyer Holly Cudbill if the P&O employees’ contracts are governed by UK law, they were unlawful.

“Simply dismissing 800 employees without going through the legal process is unlawful,” she said.

“P&O should have consulted with unions and staff about potential dismissals and notified the government that hundreds of jobs were at risk.

“It’s potentially an enormous breach, but they purport to be paying their way out of it.”

Under UK law, employers planning to make 20 or more staff redundant within any 90-day period must first consult staff and speak to trade union representatives.

In a statement released by P&O, they have admitted the redundancies came “without warning or prior conversation” and “that this has caused distress for [staff] and their families”.

It states the decision was taken “as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options” because the company could not have survived otherwise.

BBC Breakfast airs everyday from 6am on BBC One.

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