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French union welcomes UK decision to force ferry firms to pay fairly

It comes as a second P&O Dover-Calais ferry is cleared to sail following the replacement of 800 crew by agency workers with some paid just £5.15 an hour 

P&O Ferries sacked 800 crew members and rehired agency workers on less than minimum wage Pic: ALLYOU Grzegorz Wasowicz / Shutterstock

A French union representing seafarers has welcomed news that the UK is to require salaries of at least the UK minimum wage to be paid on ferries regularly sailing in and out of British ports.

A promised new law on salaries on ferries - which the UK says will be introduced in the parliamentary session ahead - was announced in the Queen’s Speech today. 

This follows P&O Ferries’ decision to sack 800 UK crew members and rehire agency staff with P&O’s chief executive telling MPs some of them would be paid £5.15 per hour, almost half of the National Living Wage for people over the age of 23, which is now £9.50. 

According to an ITV investigation, some are being paid even less unless overtime is taken into account.

Ferries whose workers are not paid the equivalent of minimum wage will in future be penalised, either by being barred from UK ports or through surcharges, the government said.

Its Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill will also involve the continuation of “bilateral discussions with France, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Ireland and Denmark,” to ensure that routes become “minimum wage corridors”.

French seafarers’ union Feets-FO, which has been pressing the French government for action on minimum standards on ferries plying the Channel, told The Connexion: “I am not surprised to hear this because we knew the unions have been talking to the UK government, but it is a real step in the right direction.”

The union’s head of international affairs, Laurent Le Floch added: “We have been pressing the French government for action as well, though there is no one to talk to at the moment. When the new government is formed, we will raise it with them again.”

He said France’s transport minister had written to them expressing willingness to look at a bilateral agreement with the UK. Ideally, however, Feets-FO would like measures to go further than salaries and include, notably, working hours.

“Salaries are one thing, but conditions and organisation of work are another. There was an inspection of the conditions for new seafarers at P&O, and their [monthly] pay is above international norms but they are paid based on 300 hours a month, so pro rata it’s pretty useless.”

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We will stop at nothing to make sure seafarers in UK ports are being paid fairly. 

“P&O Ferries’ disgraceful actions do not represent the principles of our world-leading maritime sector, and changing the law on seafarer pay protection is a clear signal to everyone that we will not tolerate economic abuse of workers.   

“We will protect all seafarers regularly sailing in and out of UK ports and ensure they are not priced out of a job. Ferry operators which regularly call at UK ports will face consequences if they do not pay their workers fairly.”  

A consultation process has now begun to allow stakeholders to give their views on the ideal scope and enforcement measures of the bill. This will last until June 7, after which time responses will be considered, potentially factored into the proposals and published within three months.

It is therefore unlikely that minimum wage requirements would become law before the end of this year at the earliest.

P&O is able to pay its crew less than minimum wage before now because its ships are registered abroad, notably in Cyprus, meaning that it is not required to follow UK minimum wage laws. 

In contrast, Brittany Ferries ships are registered in France and follow its minimum wage and working conditions and DFDS’s are registered in the UK or France. Irish Ferries, meanwhile, has its ships ‘flagged out’ in Cyprus, but, after controversy over this in the early 2000s, was reported to have agreed to pay at least the Irish minimum wage.

Second Dover-Calais ship cleared to sail 

The government’s announcement comes as a second Dover-Calais P&O ferry, the Pride of Kent, was cleared to sail once again yesterday (May 9) after being detained for several weeks by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) having failed safety inspections. 

Pride of Kent can now join the only other ferry currently sailing on the route, the Spirit of Britain, which began transporting passengers again on May 5.

Read more: P&O’s Dover-Calais route resumes for first time since mass sackings

An MCA spokesperson said: “The Pride of Kent has been released from detention and can commence operations when P&O Ferries are ready.”

P&O has informed customers this morning that it will be operating a “one ship schedule” until May 12, suggesting that the Pride of Kent will not resume crossings until then. 

“If you’re travelling and the time provided is not suitable please call to discuss your options. Alternatively, if you don't wish to travel, please email help@poferries.com for a refund,” it said.

Every P&O ship is required to pass a safety inspection before it can return to the sea after the company suspended sailings with its March redundancies. Other ships on the Liverpool-Dublin, Cairnryan-Larne and Hull-Rotterdam routes have already been cleared and resumed crossings. 

P&O’s two other Dover-Calais ferries – the Pride of Canterbury and the Spirit of France – are still yet to undergo their inspections and are therefore out of service.

Related articles 

French P&O staff protest in Calais over sacking of British colleagues

Blow to Easter travel to France as second P&O ferry detained at Dover

P&O sacks 800 UK crew saying action was needed to remain ‘viable’

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