THE head of P&O ferries who sacked nearly 800 workers has been accused of being a “shameless criminal” and admitted replacement workers will be paid below the national minimum wage.

Peter Hebblethwaite – who earns a basic salary of £325,000 per year – faced a grilling by MPs in the Commons on Thursday where he was taken to task over the sackings which the Prime Minister described as being potentially against the law.

The company claimed it would have gone out of business had it not sacked hundreds of workers – including those who work on the ferry between Cairnryan and Northern Ireland – and the CEO said he would “make the decision again”.

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Hebblethwaite refused to say whether he would take the performance-based bonus to which he is entitled, should he be offered it.

The chair of the Commons Business Committee Darren Jones opened the session by asking the P&O chief: “When I was reading your biography it seemed pretty light on your experience as a chief executive officer, are you in this mess because you don’t know what you’re doing or because you’re a shameless criminal?”

Hebblethwaite apologised to the “2200 of our employees who have had to face very difficult questions” since the shock announcement last Thursday P&O via Zoom to the nearly 800 workers affected.

P&O did not consult with staff over redundancies and is facing accusations from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union it will replace workers with agency staff it can pay as low as £1.81 because they are not bound by minimum wage rules.

Hebblethwaite could not say why P&O did not consult with workers or trade unions before the mass sacking.

It was revealed the average wage of the workers replacing former employees is £5.15 per hour, which Hebblethwaite justified as being above the International Transport Workers’ Federation standards.

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The sacked crew earned an average of £36,000 per year.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), told MPs that P&O Ferries “made flagrant breaches of the law”.

He said: “They’ve done it deliberately and they’ve factored in what they’re going to have to pay for it.”

He said the company is “threatening and blackmailing” its former employees, telling them they must sign a document or “you’ll potentially get no award whatsoever, and you have to give up all of your legal rights”.

He added: “This is absolutely outrageous.”

Lynch described UK employment law as “a shambles”.