P&O accused of hiring workers on '£1.80 an hour' after sacking 800 people

21 March 2022, 16:13

P&O Ferries has been accused of hiring staff for less than £2 an hour
P&O Ferries has been accused of hiring staff for less than £2 an hour. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

P&O Ferries has been accused of hiring staff for less than £2 an hour after sacking all of its staff last week without any notice.

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The RMT union, which represented the majority of the staff fired by the company, said their replacements were being paid well below the minimum wage in the UK.

The newly-hired Indian seafarers are being paid just 2.38 US dollars an hours - the equivalent of £1.81 - the union claimed.

RMT's general secretary Mick Lynch said: "The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid 2.38 dollars an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked.

"The rule of law and acceptable norms of decent employment and behaviour have completely broken down beneath the white cliffs of Dover and in other ports, yet five days into this national crisis the Government has done nothing to stop it.

"These ships of shame must not be allowed to sail. The Government has to step in now and take control before it's too late."

It comes as several unions gathered outside parliament to protest on Monday in response to last week's snap decision to drop staff.

Prominent Labour figures spoke at the event, including Deputy leader Angela Rayner.

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Labour is set to force an emergency vote in the Commons on Monday afternoon.

The party is insisting the Government take action to outlaw the so-called fire and rehiring of staff, which involves making workers redundant before giving them their jobs back with worse terms and conditions.

It will also call on the Government to suspend contracts with DP World until the matter with P&O Ferries is resolved.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "What I want to see is those workers reinstated to their jobs, as they should never [have] been dismissed from them.

"I want to see the Government take action here to ban this fire and rehire, which is the cause of this in the first place.

"There's a vote on that this afternoon. So, what I don't want to hear is ministers, Government ministers, complaining about what P&O have done.

"Now they've got the chance to do something about it, vote this afternoon for reinstatement and banning fire and rehire."

The current minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and over is £8.91 per hour.

However, companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages. For example, some vessels operated by P&O Ferries are flagged in Cyprus.

P&O Ferries refused to comment on the pay of agency workers but reportedly told staff on Thursday that it was aiming to halve crewing costs.

No sailings have operated since that date, with the company posting on Twitter on Monday morning that services will remain suspended "for the next few days".

P&O Ferries hit back at claims by unions that its decision to replace staff with agency workers puts the safety of ships at risk.

A spokesman for the company said: "Safety is the utmost priority for P&O Ferries and our crewing management partners.

"They have recruited high-quality experienced seafarers, who will now familiarise themselves with the ships, going through all mandatory training requirements set out by our regulators.

"Safety is paramount in our new crewing management model, which is used by many of our competitors and has been proven to be the most successful model in this industry and the competitive baseline.

"We will not be reducing crewing numbers. We don't have a business if we don't have a safe business."