Furious MPs told the boss of P&O Ferries they were “behaving like gangsters” after they sacked nearly 800 workers without notice.Peter Hebblethwaite was pummelled by MPs on the commons’ business and transport committees on Thursday.It comes after the firm sacked hundreds of members of staff on a video call, sparking fierce condemnation, including from the prime minister. It was also confirmed that most of the seafarers replacing the sacked workers would be paid £5.50 an hour – below the UK’s national minimum wage of £8.91.Committee chair Darren Jones opened the session with Hebblethwaite by asking him: “When I was reading your biography, it seemed pretty light on your experience as a chief executive officer.“Are you in this mess because you don’t know what you’re doing? Or are you just a shameless criminal?”Hebblethwaite replied apologising to all the seafarers affected last week and to their families.
I completely hold my hands up that we did choose not to consult. We did not believe that there was any other way to do this and we are compensating people in full.”Peter HebblethwaiteDuring the hearing Hebblethwaite admitted that the company chose “not to consult” but said they did not believe there was any other way to save the business. Later in the session Labour’s Andy McDonald asked the firm’s boss about non-disclosure agreements that staff who accept payouts are expected to sign.McDonald asked him: “Are you going to rescind those because, quite frankly, the members of this committee think this is absolute thuggery and criminality.“You’re behaving like gangsters, to blackmail people into the situation. Will you withdraw those NDAs and let people have the freedoms that we all enjoy?”Hebblethwaite said it was a “standard confidentiality clause” in place to protect both sides, at which point MPs on the panel groaned. Tory MP Simon Jupp told him: “You might have avoided financial bankruptcy but in the minds of many customers, you are morally bankrupt. What have you done to the brand?”Another Tory MP Nus Ghani described it as a “mess” and accused Hebblethwaite of ruining the reputation of P&O. Hebblethwaite said there was no question the brand had taken a hit, but that they now had a business they could rebuild and grow. It comes after Boris Johnson claimed it appeared that “callous” P&O Ferries had “broken the law”, vowed to “take action” and encouraged workers to do the same.At the end of the session, Jones pressed Hebblethwaite saying: “I asked whether you either didn’t know what you were doing or whether you wilfully broke the law. “You said to this committee today that you wilfully broke the law, you chose not to consult, even though you know you should have done. “But you decided to pay people off with compensation in order to break the law. “Does that not give you concern that you’re in breach of your legal obligations as a company director under company law?” Hebblethwaite replied: “I completely hold our hands up, my hands up, that we did choose not to consult.“We did not believe that there was any other way to do this and we are compensating people in full.”Yesterday Hebblethwaite issued an apology for the impact of their decision, saying he understood the “anger and shock” about the loss of jobs. Hebblethwaite previously said the 786 sacked workers were employed by three Jersey-based arms of P&O Ferries.The eight ships they worked on, which service routes including Dover-Calais and Larne-Ciarnryan, are all registered in Cyprus, the Bahamas or Bermuda.Protests have been held in Dover and Liverpool against the sackings and more are expected.P&O Ferries has said the redundant staff will be offered £36.5million in total – with around 40 getting more than £100,000 each. However, unions said the compensation package was “pure blackmail and threats”.The firm has also denied that it broke the law when it sacked the workers without warning last week.This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Follow HuffPost UK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.Related…Boris Johnson Says He Believes ‘Callous’ P&O Ferries Broke Law By Sacking 800 Workers’A Sinking Ship’: Tory Ministers Mocked After P&O Ferries Letter GaffeMinister Suggests Treasury Should Try To Claw Back Furlough Money From P&O FerriesP&O Ferries Fires 800 Employees On The Spot In Horrifying Video