RMT union accuses P&O Ferries of paying some agency workers as little as £1.80 an hour

There's been widespread outrage over claims that P&O is replacing many of the 800 staff it's just sacked, as Business Editor Joel Hills reports

P&O has three ferries laid-up at Port of Dover. It had wanted to get at least one of them sailing again to Calais on Tuesday.

Those familiar with the situation here tell me that earlier on Monday the company informed the government that it isn’t ready.

P&O hoped to halve its wage bill by sacking its UK crews and restart its service with agency workers, but this is the first sign that all is not going to plan.

Agency workers driven in.

On Monday, some of those new agency crews were bused into the Western docks for safety drills and training.

P&O needs to demonstrate to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) - the regulator - that the new crews are familiar with both the vessels and the equipment on board.

The crews need to pass inspections which haven’t yet taken place so P&O can’t sail.

Meanwhile, the RMT union has accused P&O of sourcing some of its agency crews from India and paying them as little as £1.80 an hour.

At a demonstration in London, Mick Lynch, the General Secretary of the RMT, told ITV News he’d seen details of P&O freelance contracts.

“Employing Indian workers for eight days on and eight days off, for six weeks for $1,600 per month," he said.

On the basis that workers will be paid less than the UK minimum wage, Mr Lynch called the alleged employment practice "slave labour". We approached P&O Ferries but neither it nor its owner DP World was willing to comment. The allegation that P&O is paying its agency crews well below the UK minimum wage of £8.91 is plausible and, if true, would be perfectly legal.

If you look closely at the names of P&O’s ships in Dover, you’ll see they are registered in Limassol, in Cyrus.

P&O trades in international waters, using vessels that are registered abroad, so it is not subject to UK employment law and the requirement to pay the minimum wage.

Other ferry operators also use foreign agency workers from countries like Poland, Latvia and the Philippines.

P&O plans to do it on a much bigger scale.

Port of Dover is Europe’s busiest port and a vital trade route between the UK and the EU. Until P&O can restart operations, Dover has lost a third of its freight capacity.

Lorry traffic will get busier from Tuesday. On Monday night, Operation Brock is being prepared on the M20, ready to be deployed to deal with any congestion.