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Britain's most hated boss Peter Hebblethwaite drops off Seattle ferry panel after union pressure

03 Oct 2022
Communiqué de presse

Britain’s most hated boss, P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite has dropped off the panel of an industry event following public pressure from the international labour movement and U.S. government representatives. 

The disgraced CEO was scheduled to appear at the 46th Interferry Conference in Seattle on Monday, however Interferry CEO Mike Corrigan confirmed that, “Mr. Hebblethwaite is not able to participate at our conference”.​​

The move follows a scathing letter from the Chair of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Peter De Fazio (D), calling for Hebblethwaite to be removed as a panellist, and an announcement that the Seattle labour community and global transport unions planned to protest against the participation of the self-confessed lawbreaker and union buster at the event.

Rep. De Fazio said Hebblethwaite’s potential appearance “puts a stain on the reputation of Interferry’s conference. Employers like that have no place at an Interferry conference, let alone one that is co-hosted by the Washington State Ferries and takes place in the United States.” He added that inviting the CEO to speak on its Power and People panel was “an insult to all seafarers”. 

P&O Ferries illegally fired 786 seafarers in March on a pre-recorded Zoom call, a breach of UK laws on consultation and notification. Hebblethwaite shamelessly admitted to breaking the law when questioned by lawmakers, even saying that he would do it again.

Hebblethwaite is still under investigation by the United Kingdom’s Insolvency Service for potential civil violations and could yet face legal action.

David Heindel, Secretary-Treasurer of SIU and chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Section, said Hebblethwaite has no legitimacy to sit with ‘industry leaders’ and ‘innovators’ at the Interferry Conference. 

“Hebblethwaite ordered the firing of 786 hard-working, dedicated seafarers over Zoom, with no consultation or warning,” said Heindel. “What P&O Ferries did under his instruction was not only immoral, it was illegal.”

“Whether he jumped or was booted off this panel, it doesn’t matter, he has no place sitting among industry leaders, especially at a conference centred on attracting dedicated people to our industry,” said Heindel.

Ronny Øksnes, Union Officer at the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union, who is attending the Interferry Conference said: “This is a win for the 786 seafarers and a stark reminder to P&O Ferries and the wider ferry industry that the global labour community has a long memory, so for anyone else in the industry considering giving Hebblethwaite a platform, we will be there.”

“Instead of promoting disgraced lawbreakers, Interferry should be supporting initiatives like the UK unions’ ‘Fair Ferries Framework' to raise standards, eliminate unhealthy competition and put the industry onto a sustainable footing,” said Øksnes.

Nautilus and the RMT have jointly called for the UK government to make changes to prevent a P&O Ferries-style repeat under the unions’ Fair Ferries proposals.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: "Peter Hebblethwaite should never have been invited to this event and it is to the credit of the international trade union movement, that enough pressure was applied to get him removed from the panel.”

"What he and his fellow cronies at P&O Ferries did to 800 seafarers unlawfully was a national disgrace and should never be forgotten. RMT will continue to organise and campaign vigorously to make sure other P&O type mass sackings do not happen in other industries,” said Lynch.

Nautilus International General Secretary Mark Dickinson, whose union represented many of the fired seafarers, said: “I was shocked to hear that Peter Hebblethwaite had been invited to speak on ‘power and people’ at the Interferry conference in Seattle in spite of his deplorable actions in March. As a result of campaigning by unions, Hebbelthwaite has now dropped off the panel. He should also take this opportunity to step down as CEO, and if he fails to do that, we call on the UK Government to ensure he is forced to step down.”

Meanwhile, Hebblethwaite’s infamy is set to grow after he was nominated for Worst Boss on the World under the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) competition. The public are asked vote for their choice with results announced at the ITUC’s 5th World Congress to be held in Melbourne this November. It follows Hebblethwaite being voted the worst employer in Europe by the Congress of the European Transport Workers’ Federation in May.