P and O Ferries crisis: shippers and government plan for Easter as new law compels minimum wage payment

Mon 28 Mar 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

p&o

Ferry operators DFDS and Stena Line are meeting government officials this week for talks on the “continuation of services” ahead of the busy Easter holidays.

The Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed the meeting, which will also feature union officials, following the sacking by P&O Ferries of 800 staff 11 days ago. The firm said it needed to cut costs in the face of a £100m loss over a two year period.

Sky reports a DfT spokesman who said: “Ministers are working to understand how we can ensure the continuation of services in collaboration with other operators, including DFDS and Stena.”

P&O’s Dover-Calais route was due to restart on 29 March but will remain out of operation until 31 March.

No to ‘sweatshop pay’

According to the BBC, ministers plan to force all ferry companies operating from UK ports to pay at least the National Minimum Wage – £9.50 for 23 year-olds and over from April – in a bid to persuade P&O Ferries to reinstate the 800 sacked workers.

The government plans to close a legal loophole which allows ferry operators using UK ports but which are registered overseas to pay less than the minimum wage, reports the Daily Mail.

A DfT source said: “There will be no room on UK ferry routes for firms that think they can get away with sweatshop pay.”

P&O prompted outrage on 17 March when it announced that it would be replacing staff immediately with agency workers paid less than the minimum wage.

Existing contracts

However, unions have said they would not accept the National Minimum Wage for its members, and that P&O Ferries should honour existing contracts.

New law

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to outline plans to change the law on Wednesday or Thursday, before the Easter recess, the FT reports.

Shapps said: “There are other operators who have been using this model . . . Irish Ferries already went down this route.”

'Level playing field'

Calling for a “level playing field,” Danish shipper DFDS, which employs 2,700 crew, lorry drivers and office staff in the UK, has told the government it will be unable to compete if P&O’s move to pay wages as low as £5.50 an hour is not overturned.

P&O services

Services between Liverpool and Dublin are expected to sail on time, P&O has said, but its Cairnryan-Larne route remains suspended after the Maritime and Coastguard Agency deemed P&O vessel European Causeway ‘unfit to sail’.