France changes law on ferry crew wages after conditions deemed 'dangerous'

French minister says P&O crews work ‘dangerous’ hours and is 'really shocked' by ITV News and the Guardian that the firm has paid some of its crew less than £5 an hour.

Until now, the law has allowed P&O to pay the agency crews onboard its ships much less than the national minimum wage, on both sides of the Channel.

Today - in France - the law changed.

In Paris, the French Maritime Minister, Herve Berville, signed a decree enacting the “Against Social-Dumping On The English Channel” law. It is a law that has been inspired by P&O Ferries.

“We were really shocked by what happened in March 2022,” Mr Berville told ITV News.

“We couldn't accept that a company can sack 800 seafarers like this. So we needed to do something.

"Not only react, but to show that politics, show that government has to act to protect citizens and seafarers."

The new law forces all cross-Channel ferry operators to pay at least the French minimum wage of £9.96 an hour and limits the hours the agency crew are able to work without rest.

ITV News and the Guardian have seen recent payslips which show P&O has paid some of its crew less than £5 an hour.

P&O also currently expects some crew to work seven days a week, for up to 17 weeks at a time, without a break.

Herve Berville describe this practice as “dangerous” and “not moral”.

The new law stipulates crews working on ships which dock at French ports can work a maximum of 14 consecutive days on shift, followed by 14 days off.

“Can you imagine working for two months without a single day of rest?” Mr Berville said. “How can you, after two months, be in full command of what you're doing?”

The new law was passed unanimously by Assemblée nationale and it gives ferry operators three months to comply. If they don’t, they will face sanctions.

Persistent breaches will result in a fine for the ferry company of up to 7,500 Euros (£7,400) for each crew member involved, and a fine and a possible prison sentence of up to six months for executives.

P&O’s competitors say that cutting its wage bill has enabled the company to cut its prices, giving it an unfair advantage - on the busy Dover-Calais route, P&O is winning customers.

Brittany Ferries does pay the French minimum wage.

The company’s president told me that without action by the French government, his company would either disappear or have to copy P&O.

“I’m not prepared to do that,” Jean-Marc Roue said.

P&O could choose to appeal against the new law but the company hasn’t said how it intends to respond.

P&O has also insisted that its crew are properly rested.

In a statement on Monday, P&O said it works hard to ensure “[crew’s] welfare, well-being and mental health are are properly cared for”

The statement added that P&O “always pays at least the minimum wage required by national and international law”.

The new law also affects Irish Ferries.

ITV News can reveal that some of its agency crew are paid less than £9 an hour and work as many as six weeks without a day off.

In a statement, Irish Ferries said its “commitment to crew safety and welfare is unwavering“ and that the ferry company “is committed to compliance … whatever the regulatory framework”.

France has moved first but the British government plans to follow suit later in the summer by implementing its own minimum wage reforms.

The legal loopholes P&O exploited two years ago are slowly closing.

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