The government’s plan to ask UK ports to block ferries from docking if they do no pay crews the UK minimum wage would not succeed, the docks industry has stated.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps’ minimum wage plan for the ferry industry, formulated in response to the P&O Ferries mass redundancy, were described as “unworkable” by the British Ports Association.
Shapps urged ports to block ferries from docking if they did not pay their crew the UK minimum wage, with plans to create new laws.
But the ferry ports trade body’s chief executive Richard Ballantyne accused the transport secretary of “rushing to find a solution”.
He said: “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.”
P&O Ferries redundancies
The British Ports Association covers more than 400 port facilities in the UK.
The largest ports are represented by the UK Major Ports Group, which was also critical of the plan as it would require ports to “be the police for the labour practices of ferry companies”.
It added: “We want to engage urgently and work with government to find a more effective and appropriate way of addressing the issues raised” by the P&O Ferries sackings.
Unions also expressed disappointment that the plans didn’t go far enough.
Shapps said he wanted to see British ports refusing access to ferry companies “who don’t pay a fair wage, as soon as [is] practical”.
The government will consult on the changes needed to make it a legal requirement, he added, but urged ports to take action “as soon as practical”.
From 1 April the UK minimum wage will be £9.50 per hour for workers aged 23 and over. The average rate paid to the agency staff brought in by P&O Ferries is £5.50, which it says is in line with international maritime standards.
National minimum wage offshore rules, introduced in late 2020, stipulate that crews operating in UK territorial waters (extending 12 miles from the coast) and on the UK’s part of the continental shelf should be paid the minimum wage. But most ferry routes leave these zones so it remains unclear how UK wage laws should be applied to them.
To surmount these issues, Shapps also set out plans to create “minimum wage corridors” on ferry routes between the UK and other countries.
Ballantyne, added: “While it’s right the government and the ferry industry look to improve employment rules and standards, the expectation that port authorities will need to enforce minimum wage rules in the shipping sector could be unworkable. This will place ports in a difficult legal predicament, especially before any legislation is in place.”
The ports bodies have also raised questions over how ports would be able to establish whether ferry workers were being paid less than minimum wage. They are said to consider it likely that ports will end being forced to report suspected breaches of minimum wage laws to the government.
The transport secretary has also asked the Insolvency Service to consider disqualifying P&O Ferries chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite from acting as a company director.
He said the announcement would force P&O Ferries to “fundamentally rethink” its sacking of 800 workers without consulting unions beforehand.
But the ferry company has shown no sign that it will bend to the pressure, stating earlier this week that it would not reinstate any of the workers.
Minimum wage on ferries – union response
Mick Lynch, the RMT’s general secretary, said: “Despite all the bluster, Grant Shapps has failed to grasp the opportunity to adequately stand up to the banditry behaviour of P&O.
“This continued lack of action and courage has meant a ferry company owned by the Dubai royal family [P&O Ferries’ holding company DP World] has been able to break our laws, disrupt our ports and ruin people’s lives with impunity. We will keep pressing the government to ensure justice for our members.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said Shapps’ plan had “gaping holes” and would neither deliver a “fair outcome” for the 800 P&O Ferries workers, nor prevent another “P&O-style scandal”.
“Closing the legal loophole which lets companies pay less than the minimum wage is a start, but we need much more from the government.
“Ministers must do everything they can to ensure P&O reinstate staff on their previous pay – a union-negotiated rate that is significantly higher than the national minimum wage. That means severing all ties with DP World, including lucrative freeport contracts.”
She added: “If ministers really want to stop companies firing at will, they must go further than a feeble statutory code and finally deliver the long-promised employment bill to boost worker protections.”
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