P&O Ferries could be prosecuted for firing 800 workers, Business Secretary Paul Scully warned before the government’s ultimatum to the company.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he will review all public contracts and contacts with the company and its owners, DP World.
On Tuesday, the RMT union said seafarers from abroad had been brought in to replace the 800 fired British crews and were paid as little as £ 1.80 an hour.
P&O Ferries disputes the figures, but it declined to discuss the tariffs or provide alternative tariffs and would not confirm whether it paid the minimum wage.
Scully said the government was investigating whether the company had followed the proper procedure before mass layoffs. Shapps has given the company a deadline Tuesday night to explain how the procedures were followed.
“If they have violated the Intelligence Act, where they have to tell the Secretary of State when they want to fire more than a hundred people, then there are criminal sanctions involved in it, including an unlimited fine,” he said.
“We have reserved the right to approach the prosecution if that is the right thing to do.”
Scully said the company should be aware that it had fundamentally changed its relationship with the government, including a £ 25 million grant the company had received to help develop the London Gateway as a free port.
“They have to realize that the relationship between the companies and the government has changed as a result of their absolutely numbness. [conduct],” he said.
Shapps admitted last week that he was made aware of planned layoffs at 6 p.m. 20.30 on Wednesday, but assumed that they would be implemented in the same way as the 1,100 redundancies in 2020, through consultation rather than the “cynical approach” used.
Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the government “should have moved” faster after being notified, telling BBC Breakfast: “I would like to know what kind of question the government asked?
“It was clear when that note was sent to the government that it was something out of the ordinary … to be told yesterday that they knew in advance what was going on, first of all they should have moved to stop it and they can still move to stop it.It’s not good to say it will help people get jobs that have been fired this way.
“We can not allow this to stand because this is going to be the template for how these things are being done in the UK from now on.”
Former Pensions Minister Ros Altmann said the company’s behavior was “absolutely shameful”, adding “the government should think very carefully about forcing the employer to behave better and if that means they have to impose on them any kind of sanctions or warnings, I think that would be perfectly appropriate. “
Lady Altmann told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that there could be “further concerns” over the company’s multi-employer pension fund with around 100 companies attached to it.
“There’s clearly a greater risk now, in some ways, that the company will not necessarily survive,” she said.
“It has a very wealthy parent who you can usually look to to correct this deficit, even if the company itself is not doing so well for the subsidiary, then the parent company is doing extremely well. If we do not try to ensure that money is paid in now, the bill for other companies, competitors to P&O can be even bigger.
“If that company moves forward, then it will have some unfair advantage over the competition if they pay a decent minimum wage and comply with the types of laws that UK companies have to comply with – but there may also be additional costs to their pension. “