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Employment

A new law could ban P&O Ferries from UK ports if it doesn't pay staff minimum wage

But unions have raised concerns about how the new rules would be enforced.

P&O Ferries have resumed sailing from Dover to Calais. Image: Ethan Wilkinson / Unsplash

Ferries that dock at British ports will be forced to pay crew at least the UK minimum wage, according to new legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech

The new laws could see P&O Ferries – which was accused of using fire and rehire tactics to pay seafarers below the minimum wage – banned from landing in the UK. 

P&O has been reported as paying some workers a basic rate of just £3.94 an hour, less than half the national living wage of £9.50 for people aged 23 and above. The disgraced company resumed sailings from ports across the UK less than a month after admitting it acted illegally when it sacked almost 800 workers in March. 

“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 that regularly call at UK ports will face consequences if they do not pay their workers fairly,” said transport secretary Grant Shapps.

“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.”

Titled The Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill, the legislation will see the creation of “minimum wage corridors” on ferry routes between the UK and other countries.

But the Trades Union Congress has called the proposals “feeble and likely unworkable.”

The union has highlighted that HMRC inspectors, who are responsible for enforcing the law around minimum wage paid to workers, do not have the legal right to board ships. Only the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has this legal right.

“The government has done nothing to tackle the most flagrant labour abuse in years by  P&O. Only stronger employment legislation that boosts worker protections and stops companies firing on the spot will prevent another P&O-type scandal,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

This lack of enforcement could “kick the legs out from under” the proposals, says the TUC, but is indicative of an enforcement crisis that runs far beyond the maritime industry. 

Many had hoped the Queen’s Speech would include the announcement of an Employment Bill, a proposed version of which was set to contain the establishment of an employment watchdog that would enforce breaches of employment law such as withholding sick pay or holiday entitlements from workers. 

A consultation on the proposed legislation will run for four weeks and examine what sort of vessels could be included beyond ferries and how the law would be enforced. 

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