In an admission before Members of Parliament, Peter Hebblethwaite, the CEO of P&O Ferries, acknowledged his inability to subsist on the meagre wage of £4.87 per hour, a wage some of his crew members are paid.

This revelation comes amidst mounting scrutiny over the company’s treatment of its workforce, particularly its decision to terminate hundreds of employees without prior notice and replace them with agency staff.

Mr. Hebblethwaite disclosed that he amassed over £500,000 in earnings last year, a figure that includes a substantial bonus.

However, his remarks at the parliamentary hearing shed light on the stark disparity between his compensation and that of the crew members he oversees.

The controversy surrounding P&O Ferries erupted in 2022 when the company laid off 786 staff members, sparking public outrage and prompting governmental action to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Despite Mr. Hebblethwaite’s apology for the redundancies, questions persist regarding the ethics of the company’s practices.

P&O’s use of agency workers

During the hearing, Mr. Hebblethwaite defended P&O’s use of agency workers, citing international standards for crew compensation. He emphasised that the wages paid by P&O exceed the minimum basic wage required by international law, despite criticism from lawmakers.

Critics, including Liam Byrne, chair of the Business and Trade Committee, condemned P&O’s actions, accusing the company of exploiting its workforce. The comparison drawn by the committee chair between P&O’s practices and piracy underscored the gravity of the situation.

While the UK raised its minimum wage to £11.44 per hour in April, many P&O crew members are recruited from overseas, further complicating the issue. Mr. Hebblethwaite reiterated P&O’s adherence to international laws but faced scepticism from MPs who likened the company’s actions to modern-day slavery.

In response to queries about his own financial situation, Mr. Hebblethwaite conceded that he could not survive on the wage offered to some of his crew members. He expressed regret for the impact of the mass layoffs on affected employees and their families, asserting that the decision was necessary to salvage the company.

Modern-day slavery

Labour MP Andy McDonald echoed widespread concerns, describing P&O’s practices as tantamount to modern-day slavery. The lack of repercussions for P&O’s actions has drawn criticism, with calls for stricter regulations and sanctions against the company.

The government, recognising the need for legislative reform, announced plans to close loopholes in maritime law exploited by P&O Ferries. Anticipated legislation aims to enforce the £11.44 per hour minimum wage for ferry operators, signalling a potential shift towards greater accountability and fairness in the industry.

As the controversy surrounding P&O Ferries unfolds, questions persist about corporate responsibility and the treatment of workers in the maritime sector. Mr. Hebblethwaite’s acknowledgment of the stark wage disparity underscores the pressing need for systemic reform to ensure fair labour practices and protect the rights of employees.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.