P&O Ferries employing Indian seafarers ‘earning less than £2 an hour’ after sacking UK staff

Indian seafarers hired to replace sacked P&O Ferries crews are being paid just $2.38 (£1.81) an hour, a union has claimed

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The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which represented many of the 800 staff sacked without notice last week, said their replacements are being paid well below the minimum wage in the UK.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid $2.38 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.”

P&O ferry the Spirit of Britain at Port of Dover in Kent. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.
P&O ferry the Spirit of Britain at Port of Dover in Kent. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.
A protest by unions outside the Houses of Parliament, London, over P&O Ferries handing 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.
A protest by unions outside the Houses of Parliament, London, over P&O Ferries handing 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.

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

But 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. When the firm informed staff on Thursday they were losing their jobs, it told them it was aiming to halve crewing costs.

No sailings have operated since that date.

The company posted on Twitter on Monday morning that services will remain suspended “for the next few days”.

Demonstrators gathered outside the London offices of P&O Ferries owner DP World on Monday afternoon, before marching to Parliament.

The Labour Party has called on the Government to suspend contracts with DP World until the matter with P&O Ferries is resolved.

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.”

A protest by unions outside the Houses of Parliament, London, over P&O Ferries handing 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.
A protest by unions outside the Houses of Parliament, London, over P&O Ferries handing 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week. Picture date: Monday March 21, 2022.

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.”