P&O Ferries: Loophole which allows firm to pay agency workers £5.50 an hour to be shut

A loophole which allows P&O Ferries to pay agency workers as little as £5.50 an hour is to be closed following a lengthy campaign by Hull East MP Karl Turner along with the trade union RMT.

Workers on the Pride of Hull ferry  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Workers on the Pride of Hull ferry Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Legislation is expected to be announced as early as Monday to introduce the national minimum wage for seafarers on international ferry routes arriving in UK ports following the outcry over sacking of 800 seafarers, including 82 ratings and officers on the Pride of Hull.

Mr Turner said it would “go a long way to making sure an event like the P&O seafarer sackings can never, ever happen again as it completely removes the incentive of these predatory practices.”

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Currently the minimum wage - which rises to £9.50 for over 23s from April 1 - is paid to seafarers sailing between UK ports.

Hull East MP Karl Turner speaks to protestors at the port of Hull Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

But Mr Turner said P&O had attempted to exploit the loophole of the wage not applying to ships sailing on routes such as Hull to Rotterdam, Liverpool to Dublin or Dover to Calais.

Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite told MPs on Thursday that agency workers were paid on average £5.50 an hour but the MP said he knew of cases where it was just £1.83 an hour.

Mr Turner said he had been campaigning on the issue since he became an MP 12 years ago. The RMT had demanded it "for decades", he added.

He added: “It’s through the outrage and action of trade unions, the Labour movement and the general public that we are on the brink of achieving this historic demand, so I’m extremely grateful to all that have been involved.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that the Government is planning to change the law and said the move would force a “U-turn on what’s happened at P&O”.

“What I’m going to do... is come to Parliament this coming week with a package of measures which will both close every possible loophole that exists and force them to U-turn on this,” he said.

“We are not having people working from British ports... plying regular routes between here and France or here and Holland, or (anywhere) else, and failing to pay the minimum wage.

“It’s simply unacceptable.”

RMT National Secretary Darren Procter said the loophole had existed since October 2020. He said: "What we're hoping is that P&O understand the severity of the legislation that will be enacted and the impact it will have on their new crewing model and in actual fact it won't be financially viable for them to do what they are trying to do.

"We just hope the legislation will provide a proper step forward in terms of attracting youngsters into the industry and attracting more jobs and more UK seafarers around the coast."

However he said P&O had resisted their calls to reinstate 800 crewmembers sacked earlier this month and extend the deadline for workers accepting the settlement agreements beyond Thursday.

A “boycott P&O” protest is being held on Saturday at King George Dock in Hull. They will also take place in Liverpool and Dover.