P&O Ferries could face prosecution if the firm is considered to have broken the law over the sacking of 800 seafarers, UK business minister Paul Scully has warned.
The ferry operator, which was bought by Dubai-based logistics giant DP World in 2019, has come under fire for replacing the sacked staff with cheaper agency workers.
After P&O announced the mass dismissal last week, security guards with handcuffs were reportedly deployed to remove crew members that refused to leave the company’s vessels.
Bosses insisted the decision to cut jobs was “very difficult but necessary” as it is “not a viable business” currently.
On Tuesday, Scully told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “If they have flouted the notification law where they are supposed to tell the secretary of state when they are going to make more than 100 people redundant, then there are criminal sanctions involved in that, including an unlimited fine.
“We have reserved the right to approach the prosecuting authorities should that be the right thing to do.”
On Monday it was revealed that P&O vessels would be blocked from sailing if they fail safety checks.
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had been instructed to inspect the company’s ferries prior to them being able to re-enter service to ensure the new crews proposed for them are “safe and properly trained”.
He told MPs: “If they are not these ships will not sail.”
According to the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), some of the new workers are being paid as little as £1.81 an hour.
The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour. However, companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid $2.38 an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked.”
Mr Lynch called on the Government to “step in now and take control before it’s too late”.
Speaking to Radio 4 Today, Scully said Shapps was reviewing all Government contracts and dealings with P&O and DP World.
He said: “They need to realise that the relationship between the companies and the Government has changed as a result of their absolutely callous [conduct].
Asked if that could include a £25m subsidy to DP World to help develop London Gateway as a freeport, Scully said: “We will look into all of these things as part of this.”
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