In the wake of the sudden sacking of 800 workers by P&O Ferries, the government is planning to pass legislation to close low-pay loopholes.
On the 17th of March P&O Ferries announced that 800 workers were to be made redundant, breaking – knowingly, as later admitted by P&O Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite – laws requiring forewarning be given to the government and consultation to be held with workers’ unions.
The company claimed that it was losing £100 million per year and that hiring cheaper workers was required in order to keep the company running. Since making their workers redundant, P&O Ferries has brought in agency workers paid less than minimum wage; around £5.50 compared to the current minimum wage of £8.91.
Current laws allow ferry companies operating in the UK and using UK ports to pay workers below the UK minimum wage if the company is registered overseas. P&O Ferries’ boats are currently registered in Cyprus, Bermuda and the Bahamas. The Transport Secretary is now drawing up legislation in order to prevent ferry companies that operate out of UK ports to pay less than UK minimum wage, threatening to ban companies in breach of this from docking their boats in the UK.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, in a letter to P&O, said that the company has “one last chance” to give their sacked workers their old jobs back, at no lower than minimum wage, and that if the company “doesn’t perform a U-turn, we will force it to do so anyway.”
However, a spokesperson for the National Union Of Rail Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT) has said that the actions planned by the Transport Secretary do not go far enough, amounting to little more than political pressure as opposed to laws requiring the company to rehire their workers. The union spokesperson also demanded that the company be made to rehire their workers on their old contracts’ pay, rather than being reduced to the minimum wage in what effectively turn the situation into an incredibly convoluted and drawn out fire-and-rehire scheme. The practice of firing and rehiring workers on lower wages has itself drawn much criticism recently, with parliament passing an advisory vote to ban the practice.
The RMT union has stated that it intends to continue organising protests until the sacked workers are rehired on their old contracts.