P&O Ferries rejects government plea to rehire fired workers

LONDON, March 29 (Reuters) - P&O Ferries on Tuesday rejected the British government's request to rehire 800 workers it fired without notice two weeks ago, saying that doing so would cause the company to collapse.

P&O Ferries, an 180-year old company now owned by Dubai-based logistics group DP World, prompted an outcry from British government ministers, lawmakers and trade unions for its shock move this month to replace staff with cheaper agency workers. read more

Britain's coastguard agency has since detained two P&O operated ferries citing safety concerns over a lack of crew familiarisation. read more

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P&O Ferries' boss Peter Hebblethwaite said the government's request to reverse the redundancies ignored "the situation's fundamental and factual realities", responding to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a letter posted on Twitter.

"The circumstances which led P&O Ferries to make the decision in the first place still apply... Complying with your request would deliberately cause the company's collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs," he added.

"I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its own downfall."

P&O Ferries has a fleet of more than 20 ships and operates over 30,000 sailings a year on routes between Britain, France, Ireland and elsewhere in northern Europe. It has partly blamed its restructuring on the pandemic, saying it had lost 100 million pounds last year due to virus-related restrictions.

Shapps had on Monday said a package of measures would be introduced to block ferry groups seeking to pay workers less than the minimum wage. read more

Hebblethwaite told a parliamentary committee last week that the company broke the law by not consulting unions so it could instead bring in cheaper agency staff. read more

The new hires were earning an average of 5.50 pounds an hour, he told the committee. The UK minimum wage, which is 8.91 pounds at present for most workers, is set to rise to 9.50 pounds next month.

The British government did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Tuesday. read more

Hebblethwaite also said in the letter that the company "never sought to undermine the minimum wage regulations."

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Reporting by Muvija M, Editing by William James, Andrew MacAskill and Jane Merriman

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