New crews being drafted in to run P&O ferries are being offered wages as low as £2.60 an hour, according to reports. The agency staff were bought in after the ferry company suddenly axed 800 employees last week, and are being paid so little some union bosses have described it as a 21st Century recreation of ‘slave ships’.
The agency that will be responsible for the new P&O Ferries crews was set up only four weeks ago according to Mailonline, which reported Maltese firm International Ferry Management is run by a Swiss shipping boss whose name was mentioned in the 2017 Paradise Papers leak.
One 59-year-old man who worked with the company for 23 years described the mass sackings as ‘money-grabbing and a total betrayal’. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he told MailOnline that cheaper agency workers, understood to be from Eastern Europe, were being brought in on wages of £2 to £3 per hour to replace British sailors whose hourly rates can eclipse £28, reports Hull Live.
Tory chairman Oliver Dowden has said P&O Ferries and its parent company DP World should be “in no doubt” that the Government is considering its links with them following the mass sacking. The Government’s contracts with the firms are being reviewed and Mr Dowden said there was “revulsion” about the handling of the process. “I think they should be in no doubt that the Government is considering very closely its relationship with them,” he said.
He told Times Radio the Government was trying to establish whether the mass sacking was legal. “That is why the Transport Secretary (Grant Shapps) has asked the Insolvency Service to look at the notification requirements, for example, and see whether further action is appropriate,” Mr Dowden said. “All of us feel, frankly, a revulsion at the kind of sharp practices from P&O. There has been a complete lack of engagement, a lack of prior notice or indeed any empathy whatsoever for the workers.”
Transport Secretary Mr Shapps and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to P&O chief executive on Friday to express their “disappointment and anger” at the mass sacking. Mr Shapps said he had instructed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to carry out inspections of all P&O vessels before they return to sea to check the new crews the company has “rushed through” are safe. Demonstrations were held at ports in London, Liverpool, Larne, Hull and Dover, on Friday, as unions call for a boycott of the company.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We have to get to the bottom of this scandal. The Government must be transparent and publish the legal advice it has received. That’s the very least the P&O crew deserve. If the company has breached the law it must face severe consequences – not just a slap on the wrist. What happened at P&O can never, ever be allowed to happen again. Ministers must urgently bring forward an employment bill to stop workers from being treated like disposable labour. The time for excuses is over.”
Billy Jones, branch secretary for Humber Shipping for the RMT, said the defiant captain of the Pride of Hull assured him that the ship would not be leaving its Yorkshire port as the new crew of cheaper agency workers ‘still have no right to sail the ship’ under maritime law, the Yorkshire Post reports.
Speaking of the new crews, he explained: ‘They still have no right to sail the ship unless they are cleared by the MCA. There’s still a P&O crew on board, a skeleton crew to make sure they don’t take the ship away.’ Mr Jones said the mass sackings could spell the ‘end of the British maritime industry’, and slammed the firm for turning their vessels into ‘modern slave ships’ as it was suggested the new crew was to be paid as little as £2.60 an hour.