Union claims P&O Ferries pay replacement workers less than £2 an hour
Bosses at P&O Ferries are facing increasing criticism after claims they hired non-UK workers for as little as £1.82 an hour to replace 800 employees that were sacked without notice last week.
According to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), which represents many of the former 800 P&O staff, the replacement seafarers from India, the Philippines and war-torn Ukraine are receiving $2.38 per hour – well below the minimum wage.
RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid $2.38 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.
“The government has to step in now and take control before it’s too late.”
When the company informed employees on Thursday they were losing their jobs, it told them it was aiming to halve crewing costs. No sailings have operated since that date.
Despite the minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and over is £8.91 per hour, companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages.
Employment lawyers across the UK are also warning that the company, which announced the mass redundancy on a video call, could face a major backlash, including legal claims for unfair dismissal.
Anna Elliott, employment partner at law firm Osborne Clarke, said: “Not only has the vast adverse publicity highlighted the reputational risks of mishandling employee relations matters, it may also have significant legal risks.
“If their employment is governed by English law, P&O Ferries could face an influx of claims for failing to consult for 45 days (as more than 100 employees were made redundant), failing to file a HR1 as well as unfair dismissal and other claims.
“P&O Ferries’ broadcast to employees offered an ‘enhanced redundancy package’ subject to entering into a settlement agreement with a view to avoiding some of these claims.
“It’s not clear yet what the take up with be of this and certainly some employees do not appear to be going quietly and the Unions are urging the Government to take action.”
At the time of going to press, the P&O were yet to publicly respond to the RMT’s claims on non-Uk workers pay.
However, a spokesperson for P&O Ferries responded to the initial redundancy meeting in the following statement: “We know that for our staff this redundancy came without warning or prior consultation, and we fully understand that this has caused distress for them and their families.
“We took this difficult decision as a last resort and only after full consideration of all other options, but, ultimately, we concluded that the business wouldn’t survive without fundamentally changed crewing arrangements, which in turn would inevitably result in redundancies.
“We also took the view, in good faith, that reaching agreement on the way forward would be impossible and, against this background, that the process itself would be highly disruptive, not just for the business but for UK trade and tourism.
“We have offered enhanced severance terms to those affected to properly and promptly compensate them for the lack of warning and consultation.
“The changes we’ve made bring us into line with standard industry practice.
“All affected crew who were working (at the time) were notified face-to-face and in-person on board their vessels.
“For crew who were off, P&O Ferries made all efforts to notify them personally: they were individually called on the phone, as well as via email and text.
“Virtual meetings were also held but only 261 of our 800 affected staff were on those calls. To try to minimise disruption for our customers, we contacted everyone we could reach.”