Concerns ports could be in 'difficult legal predicament' if asked to enforce minimum wage rules with ships

Industry bodies are concerned that ports will be put “in a difficult legal predicament” if they are asked to enforce minimum wage rules on ships, in line with the Government’s proposed legislation following the P&O sackings.

Unions have also raised issues, after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the Government will lay legislation which will allow ports to block access any ships that do not pay crews the minimum wage.

Mr Shapps last night outlined nine actions the Government is taking following the mass redundancies, which saw P&O replace long-serving staff, including those based at docks in Hull, with agency workers paid on average considerably less than the UK minimum wage.

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He acknowledged that the legislation “will not be possible overnight,” but he told MPs that the industry will have Ministers’ support to act in this way “as soon as practicable”.

Workers onboard the P&O Pride of Kent at the Port of Dover in Kent, after the vessel was detained by The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) over safety concerns following P&O Ferries sacking 800 workers without notice.

The British Ports Association said, however, that this arrangement with “the expectation that port authorities will need to enforce minimum wage rules ... could be unworkable”.

Chief executive Richard Ballantyne said last night: “This will place ports in a difficult legal predicament, especially before any legislation is in place.

“The ports industry is genuinely sympathetic towards the situation of the impacted seafarers; however, we would suggest that ports are not the competent authorities to enforce rules on employee salaries or working conditions in the shipping industry.

“We are concerned that the Government is rushing to find a solution without considering the wider implications in the maritime sector.”

Mr Shapps said that the new rules will mean that P&O have to “fundamentally rethink their decision” following their “failure to see reason, to recognise the public anger, and to do the right thing by their staff”.

He said HM Revenue & Customs will dedicate “significant resource” to ensure all UK ferry operators are “compliant with the national minimum wage, no ifs, no buts”, and that he has written to the chief executive of the Insolvency Service, conveying his “firm belief” that P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite is “unfit to lead a British company”.

“This will send a clear message to the maritime industry: we will not allow this to happen again,” he told the Commons.

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“Where new laws are needed, we will create them. Where legal loopholes are cynically exploited, we will close them. And where employment rights are too weak, we will strengthen them.”

Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, described the measures as “too little too late”.

“Despite all the bluster, Grant Shapps has failed to grasp the opportunity to adequately stand up to the banditry behaviour of P&O.

“The Prime Minister repeatedly said to Parliament that the Government would be taking legal action to save British seafarers’ jobs, but he has failed to keep his word.”

Meanwhile, a Hull MP has cautiously welcomed the approach to improve seafarers’ wages, but said the announcement was still “some way short” of providing justice for the sacked workers.

Karl Turner told The Yorkshire Post: “This day has been long in the making, and I welcome any attempts to improve seafarers’ wages and their enforcement.

“The need for the National Minimum Wage to apply to UK-international ferry routes has been there for many years and we will look closely at the proposed legislation to make sure that it cuts the mustard.

“The Prime Minister promised justice for the sacked P&O seafarers,

“And sadly today’s announcement was still some way short of that, with no legal action against P&O and no review of DP World’s lucrative government contracts.

“The Government now need to make sure that these unscrupulous foreign-owned companies don’t start messing around with terms and conditions which would put the safety of passengers and crews at risk.”