P&O Ferries crossings are still suspended on the Dover-Calais route, and are not set to begin again before at least next week.
This comes as scrutiny over P&O’s sacking of 800 crew members without notice in a bid to replace them with much cheaper agency workers widens to the British shipping industry as a whole, as historical reports on foreign workers being paid less than UK minimum wage resurface.
P&O has updated passengers hoping to sail between Dover and Calais via its Twitter page, stating: “P&O Ferries services are unable to run some of our services for the next few days. We are advising travellers of alternative arrangements. We will update this feed every three hours with the operational situation.”
It also said that Dover-Calais services “remain cancelled. Please arrive as booked, we will get you away on an alternative carrier ASAP.
“Once at port please head to the DFDS (Dover) or P&O (Calais) check-in booths. We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause.”
#PODover #POCalais Services today remain cancelled. Please arrive as booked, we will get you away on an alternative carrier asap. Once at the port please head to the DFDS (Dover) or P&O (Calais) check in booths. We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause>— P&O Ferries Updates (@POferriesupdate) March 30, 2022
When asked by a passenger when Channel crossings would begin again, the company responded that: “Sailings on this route are suspended until April 3 inclusive. If this changes and you are affected, we will contact you directly to advise.”
Sailings on this route are suspended until 3rd April inclusive. If this changes and you are affected, we will contact you directly to advise. Our team at the port can help with API— P&O Ferries Updates (@POferriesupdate) March 31, 2022
Hull-Rotterdam services are also cancelled until April 4 inclusive at the earliest.
P&O Ferries not the first company to try fire and rehire
When P&O sacked its UK crew members, it replaced them with agency workers, often from India and Asia, who are receiving less than UK minimum wage.
The UK’s RMT union, which represents many of the sacked employees, initially said that it had heard from the new workers that they were earning £1.81 an hour. P&O later stated that the new crew is receiving £5.50 an hour on average.
This is still well below the UK minimum wage for people aged over 23, which is £8.91 per hour (£9.50 from April). However, the £5.50 figure is said to be in line with international maritime standards.
It is currently possible for companies which use UK ports to register their ships in other countries, enabling them to pay their staff less than minimum wage. Some of P&O’s ferries are registered in Cyprus.
UK minimum wage legislation was extended to most shipping companies in British waters in October 2020, but this did not include ferries.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has now encouraged ports to prevent ferries from docking if their crew is paid less than the British minimum wage, and has announced plans to enshrine this in law.
However, ports have warned that this is an “unworkable” solution, with Richard Ballantyne of the British Ports Association saying: “We would suggest that ports are not the competent authorities to enforce rules on employee salaries or working conditions in the shipping industry.”
Mr Shapps has also outlined plans to create “minimum wage corridors” on ferry routes involving UK ports in discussion with partner countries such as France.
When it emerged that P&O’s agency workers were receiving less than minimum wage, a spokesperson for the transport and environment branch of France’s Force Ouvrière (FO) union, FEETS FO told The Connexion: “Unfortunately these hourly rates are not in the least bit surprising in the deregulated sector which is the maritime transport industry.”
Even in 2014, the late Bob Crow, who was then the leader of the RMT, criticised the “super-exploitation of foreign nationals in the British shipping industry…a massive scandal that the political elite want to keep quiet.”
These comments were related to Condor Ferries, which the union claimed was paying its foreign agency workers as little as £2.40 an hour.
Irish Ferries also came under fire in 2005, when it proposed to sack 543 crew members – although this time with prior consultation – and replace them with agency workers from eastern Europe and re-register its vessels in Cyprus.
This led to a protracted dispute between the company management and trade unions, and Irish Ferries sailings were suspended for three weeks.
The issue was eventually resolved but Irish Ferries was still allowed to outsource its crews and register its ships in Cyprus and to offer lower wages compared to what was paid previously.
Unions however managed to secure a settlement which obliged the company to maintain at least Irish minimum wage standards for the new workers, requiring it to pay double what it had initially proposed. The firm also offered to keep up to 48 original workers on at their existing salaries.
Irish Ferries did not wish to respond to The Connexion’s requests for comment on their current practices with regards to ship registration and wages.
Department for Transport statistics show that less than 15% of people working for UK-based ferry operators are British – excluding officers – and more than three quarters come from overseas.