P&O Ferries’ U-teeth attempt to cut salaries for agency staff

A plan by P&O Ferries to cut the salaries of agency staff has been scrapped after an employee claimed that seafarers at Dover worked without contracts and had been asked to accept a lower salary.

The company was reported to the Danish Maritime and Coast Guard Agency after allegations that temps had been asked to sign contracts replacing their old and including lower wages.

The Dubai-owned company fired 800 workers on March 17 without notice, replacing them with agency staff who, according to the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, could be paid less than £ 5.50 an hour on average.

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P&O Ferries said it had replaced workers to cover the £ 100 million losses it built up during the pandemic, although its owner, DP World, reported a record £ 2.9 billion profit last month.

The RMT said a sailor on the Spirit of Britain ferry at Dover had initially contacted the union and begged for help in a wage dispute.

In an email seen by the BBC, the worker wrote: “They do not care about our rights. They are trying to give us less money. We are desperate.”

The union accused P&O of “trying to bring in a exploitative model with the lowest possible standards they can get away with”.

The sailor told the union that they were forced to work without contracts after the old ones had expired. The worker claimed that documents had also been lost by P&O.

The worker wrote: “This is my sixth day working without a contract, please help us!”

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the BBC it was “well P&O has turned around [the] further attempts at a wage cut “, but added that” they have to go much further and pay the minimum wage like all UK companies “.

He said: “We will legislate to force them, but they could win back some much-needed credibility by acting now.”

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said: “No agency seafarers were asked to accept reduced wages and we have contacted the MCA to request that they withdraw their statement, which is misleading. There was an administrative misunderstanding about the contract that was presented to a person who apparently had no knowledge of a voucher that made it clear that he would be entitled to an additional £ 195 a month, meaning there was no change in his total salary.

“There are no plans to change or reduce the wages of any of our seafarers and we have made it clear that we will continue to comply with all national minimum wage obligations imposed by the UK Government.”

The union spoke to seafarers on Friday after boarding the Spirit of Britain at Dover. The ferry was detained this month and P&O Ferries was asked to address “a number of” safety issues.

Darren Proctor, the union’s national secretary, said the company initially did not want to let them on board the ship, and instead offered to meet union representatives at the port. The union said no.

Proctor, who was able to board the ferry, said the company had “brought people in on a monthly contract, some on two-month contracts” and then told them they had to accept lower pay rates if they would continue.

He said: “Others are entering into four-month contracts with lower wages. P&O is undermining safety and creating the lowest possible denominator in ferry standards.”

The union complained to the Maritime and Coast Guard Authority, which took action and affected seafarers’ contracts were changed with their original salary reinstated.

A spokesman for the authority said: “Before re-inspecting the Spirit of Britain yesterday, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency received a complaint via the RMT union that a seafarer had been asked to sign a contract with reduced pay.

“As part of the re-inspection, the agency investigated the complaint and, as a result, the affected seafarers were given changed contracts, which returned to their original pay.”

DP World, the multi-billion dollar port and shipping empire that owns P&O Ferries, is controlled by Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund and its prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

P&O Ferries is restarting operations from Dover to Calais this week for the first time since the company fired 800 workers.

The return of services on the busy route across the Channel is expected to ease the delays in Dover ahead of the busy summer season.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency released Spirit of Britain on Friday night, allowing the operator to resume sailing.

Its sister ship, the Pride of Kent, which also operates the Dover route to Calais, has been detained after failing its port state control inspections. Two other ships operating the route still need to be inspected.

Tickets for sailings from Dover to Calais on the Spirit of Britain are on sale from Tuesday.

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