UK ports warn that plans to make them responsible for policing seafarer pay are 'unworkable'

Thu 31 Mar 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Ports have said that they can’t be responsible for policing new rules designed to stop P&O Ferries paying staff less than the national minimum wage.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is to introduce legislation aimed at stopping P&O Ferries and other shipping companies from using UK ports unless the comply with the pay requirements.

However, ports have described the plans as “unworkable” and say they will place them in a legally awkward position, reports the Guardian.

‘Not our job’

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said that while it was right for the government to look to improve standards and working conditions, “we would suggest that ports are not the competent authorities to enforce rules”.

Speaking on BBC’s Today programme this morning, UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris said he had “important concerns” about the plans to make ports liable for checks. UK Major Ports Group represents large ports, including Hull and Liverpool from where P&O operates.

“We are not police or enforcement agencies of the law,” Morris said, “[but] we want to work closely with the government,” he said.

Ports have already received letters from Shapps strongly urging them to act ahead of the proposed legislation, he said.

DP World

The ports business of P&O owner DP World is a member of the UK Major Ports Group. When asked about the Dubai-owned company, Morris said that it was “important to recognise that it is a completely separate business [to] P&O Ferries with different management and employment practices [that are] much more in line with those of the rest of the UK ports sector”.

DP World also had “a different outlook for its business”, Morris said, citing as an example the company’s £300m investment programme to increase the shipping container capacity at its London Gateway hub in the Port of London.

Port liability

Nick Humphreys, a maritime law partner at Penningtons Manches Cooper, told the BBC that he doubted the measures “will have any effect whatsoever on P&O Ferries”.

There is no legal basis for turning away ships that don’t pay the national minimum wage, and ports could be sued by a ferry operator, he said.

P&O has said that it can’t rehire the 800 staff it fired this month as it would sink the business, reports Afloat.

“The circumstances which led P&O Ferries to make the decision in the first place still apply,” P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite said in a letter to Shapps.

New ferry investment

However, ITV reports that P&O is set to take delivery of two new super ferries costing £220m despite its claims of financial problems.

Ordered in 2019, the first of the ferries, P&O Pioneer is due to start sailing Dover-Calais in September.

With repayments on the ships due to start soon, ITV ask whether this was a factor in the company’s decision to cut its wage bill by firing crew.