P&O paying some agency crew a basic rate of £3.94 an hour

ITV News has seen contracts showing that P&O Ferries is paying agency workers less than £4 an hour, Business Editor Joel Hills reports

P&O Ferries is paying some of its agency crews a basic rate of less than £4 an hour.ITV News has seen contracts, known as Seafarer’s Employment Agreements, for several people employed on a freelance basis by the company to replace the 786 crew it sacked without warning in March.One such contract, signed by an agency worker on one of P&O’s ferries in Dover, shows the company is paying them a basic wage of $860 a month (£683, at the current exchange rate) for a 40 hour working week. This works out at an hourly rate of pay of £3.94.

The contract runs for 17 weeks and requires the crew member to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week.The contract sets out additional rates for overtime, leave and a subsistence allowance. When these are included, the crew’s rate of pay rises to £5.10 an hour, based on an 84-hour working week. This is still well below the UK minimum wage of £9.50 an hour and slightly below the lowest hourly rate (£5.15) that P&O’s chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, told MPs agency crews would earn when he appeared before a joint select committee hearing on March 24.

Peter Hebblethwaite is paid £325,000 a year.

Peter Hebblethwaite said the company will ‘fairly compensate for all proven claims’ involving lost or damaged items Credit: House of Commons/PA

A freelance seafarer employed by P&O on a contract like this could, in theory, legally earn around £20,000 a year, if they were physically able to sustain working 84 hour weeks for 11 months.The average seafarer dismissed by P&O earned £36,000 a year and had two weeks of paid shore leave for every two weeks at sea.

Interestingly, P&O’s agency crew, who spend all of their time onboard ship, seem to be aware that they are being paid significantly less than the UK minimum wage.Some are unhappy.ITV News has received an email, sent last night, from a crew member onboard P&O’s Spirit of Britain which has resumed sailing between Dover and Calais.“Why they not give us normal salary (for) the role in the UK?” The email says. “We are not cheap crew, sorry”.“(It) is not fair,” the crew member states. “In UK minimum salary by hour (is) 9 English pound. Please help us."

Today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that the government intends to force P&O and other ferry companies which use UK ports to pay the UK minimum wage.Mr Shapps repeated his view that Peter Hebblethwaite’s position as chief executive of P&O is “completely unsustainable”.“He will have to go", Mr Shapps insisted before calling for P&O to return the £11 million of furlough support it had received from the taxpayer during the pandemic.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sets out the three things P&O needs to do "to get out of this mess"

In a statement, P&O ferries said: “It is misleading to assert that any agency seafarer is paid £3.94 an hour.

"Everyone working on the ship is contractually entitled to receive a basic salary plus guaranteed overtime, a leave allowance, a subsistence allowance and a bonus.

"Taken together, the minimum rate of hourly pay is the equivalent of £5.58 an hour and nobody working on board our ships is paid less.

“It is important to note that the rates paid to our agency seafarers are above the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) minimum standards.

"We fully welcome the government’s commitment to increasing the minimum wage for all seafarers working in British waters and have called for a level playing field when it comes to pay and conditions on British ferry routes.”

The company says agency crews are “working well” and that “morale is high and our spirit as a company is strong”.

P&O says Peter Hebblethwaite will not resign and that “calls for our CEO to go need to stop.”

Commenting on ITV News' report, Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Make no mistake – these are sweatshop conditions. “P&O has deliberately sacked experienced, unionised staff so that it can replace them with agency workers on poverty pay. “These ‘union-busting’ tactics should worry all of us. “If companies are allowed to get away with acting like corporate gangsters no worker is safe. “The government must immediately sever all commercial ties with P&O and its owner DP World. “And ministers must bring forward an employment bill to stop other rogue employers from behaving like P&O.”

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