RMT condemn P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite, as £4.87 seafarer wage is revealed

P&O chief executive asked if he is a "modern-day pirate" in House of Commons committee

8 May 2024| News

The boss of P&O Ferries, Peter Hebblethwaite, was asked if he is “a pirate … robbing staff blind”, as he confirmed to MPs in a transport and business committee that the group’s seafarers had been receiving pay rates even lower than he had previously told parliament.

Hebblethwaite previously appeared in front the committee in March 2022 in the wake of P&O Ferries sacking 786 of its staff and replacing them with low-paid agency workers. At the time he told the House of Commons commitee that the lowest-paid agency worker would receive £5.15 an hour – only for a Guardian and ITV News investigation to reveal how some P&O seafarers were receiving an hourly rate as low as £4.87.

At Tuesday’s committee hearing, the chair, Liam Byrne MP, opened by asking Hebblethwaite: “Are you basically a modern-day pirate? … You seem to be robbing your staff blind.”

The UK minimum wage is £11.44 an hour – but those rates do not apply to maritime workers employed by an overseas agency who work on foreign-registered ships in international waters. P&O uses that model, therefore the pay rates onboard its ships are legal.

Asked whether he could live on £4.87 an hour, Hebblethwaite replied: “No, I couldn’t.”

Maritime union, the RMT condemned Hebblethwaite over his Parliamentary Committee performance where he admitted staff were paid under £5 an hour. He admitted dreadfully low wages of £4.87 were paid to his workers but admitted he did not know how long seafarers worked on board ships without a break.

Evidence has been found of workers not having any leave for 17 weeks straight which falls well outside what is considered safe working conditions internationally.

He went on to say that P&O did not sack anyone just over 2 years ago and that they acted legally, even though no due process was followed around redundancy laws and collective bargaining arrangements with trades unions.

Mr Hebblethwaite received a £183,000 bonus in April 2023, on top of the £325,000 basic salary.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said:

“Peter Hebblethwaite should be in the dock for what his company is responsible for.

Yet he is allowed to pontificate in Parliament, failing several times to be accurate and retaining bumper bonuses throughout his tenure as the head of P&O ferries.

Maritime communities have not recovered from the mass sackings of seafarers in 2022 and the government has not passed laws that will help deter other employers doing the same thing in the future.

Our shipping industry needs investment in skills, good terms and conditions for ratings and companies like DP World which own P&O, to be ejected from the country to prevent mass exploitation of seafarers.”