Unions have called for a trade and consumer boycott of P&O Ferries, which faces a fresh row over crew pay even as its crossings are set to resume on the Dover-Calais route.
The TUC has urged freight businesses and holidaymakers not to book on P&O Ferries, which broke the law by laying off nearly 800 crew last month, while the RMT union said it had evidence that temporary workers brought in to replace these staff were paid less than the minimum. salary.
‘We have seen agency worker contracts where they are paid the equivalent of £4.35 an hour for 17 weeks of work,’ the RMT said. “That’s less than half the current national minimum wage in the UK.”
The crew involved were on the Spirit of Britain, one of the Dover-based ferries, which has now been declared fit to sail after initially failing an inspection. This means that crossings will resume this week, potentially as early as Tuesday, for trucks, with leisure travelers expected to be able to board ferries next week.
P&O Ferries denied cutting wages and said it was an “administrative misunderstanding”, but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it had investigated and upheld an RMT complaint.
The union said a crew member alerted them saying he was ‘desperate’ for help after his pay was apparently cut by £195 on a new contract. A P&O Ferries spokesperson said the individual was “unaware of a schedule which made it clear he would be entitled to an additional £195 per month meaning there was no change in his overall salary”.
The spokesperson said: “There are no plans to change or reduce the salaries of any of our agency seafarers and we have made it clear that we will continue to comply fully with all national obligations regarding minimum wages introduced by the British government.”
The MCA said: “The complaint by the RMT union relating to seafarers’ welfare and employment contracts has been fully investigated as part of the re-inspection of Spirit of Britain and has been confirmed.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Staffing ships with super-exploited agency staff is not only morally wrong, it undermines the remaining ferry operators who uphold pay rates and union conditions and jeopardize passenger safety.
The TUC has called for a public and commercial boycott of P&O Ferries and its owner DP World, the Dubai-owned group which also has lucrative government contracts to run the Port of Southampton and London Thames Gateway Freeport.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “P&O and DP World must not be allowed to get away with their outrageous and unlawful treatment of staff.
“Companies behaving like corporate gangsters deserve much more than a slap on the wrist. Ministers must sever all commercial ties with P&O and its owner DP World and ensure they do not receive a single penny of taxpayers’ money.
She said the scandal showed Britain’s Jobs Act was ‘not fit for purpose’ and called on the government to introduce a Jobs Bill to strengthen workers’ rights.
Scottish TUC chairman Pat Rafferty went further, saying the chief executive of P&O Ferries should be jailed. Rafferty told the STUC conference in Aberdeen: “Peter Hebblethwaite should be struck off the register of directors and put behind bars.”
Hebblethwaite admitted in a House of Commons hearing that P&O failed to consult with staff or properly notify the UK government or flag states of the move, breaching employment law. The company is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Insolvency Service.
Sailings have now resumed on most P&O Ferries routes across the UK. Another vessel, the European Highlander, was overtaken by the MCA and returned to service on Saturday, bringing the Larne-Cairnryan route between Northern Ireland and Scotland back to full capacity.
P&O Ferries has not sailed the main route between Britain and Europe, the Dover-Calais crossing, since suspending services on March 17 to lay off 786 crew.