P&O tells crew it will comply with French law and reduce their hours

The company has decided to change its rosters to comply with new rules, which were enacted in France last month, ITV News Economic and Business Editor Joel Hills reports

P&O Ferries will no longer require its crew to work for up to four months without a day off - a practice which has been criticised as "immoral" and "dangerous".

The company has decided to change its rosters to comply with new rules, which were enacted in France last month to improve working conditions for seafarers.

A letter, circulated on Friday, informed crew that by law they can no longer work for more than fourteen consecutive days, followed by an equivalent rest period ashore.

The letter says "the new regulation comes into force in June 2024" and that there would be "serious consequences" for violation.

Two years ago, P&O caused outrage on both sides of the Channel by sacking 786 crew and replacing them with agency workers.

Last month, ITV News and the Guardian reported that P&O was still paying some of its agency crew average hourly rates of £4.87 - even lower than the £5.15 an hour P&O told a parliamentary select committee was its lowest pay rate in March 2022.

The new law also compels ferry operators between the UK and France to pay their crew at least the French minimum wage of £9.96 an hour.

The letter, which was sent by Philcrew - the agency which supplies workers to P&O - does not reveal if rates of pay will also change in June.

P&O has signed a voluntary commitment to pay seafarers at least the minimum wage at some point in the future.

ITV News and the Guardian have seen payslips and contracts which show that, until recently, some crew onboard P&O's ferries have been working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week for up to 17 weeks at a time.

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The letter warns the new "2 weeks on and 2 weeks off" timetable may create "difficulties", in particular for crew members "from Asia and those required to undertake extensive travel periods", but does not elaborate.

P&O currently hires its crew from a variety of countries in Asia, including India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mauritius and Malaysia.

Earlier this year, crew members who spoke to ITV News and the Guardian expressed concern that a change in the law could prompt P&O to either terminate or not renew their contracts.

Labour's shadow transport minister welcomed the changes, but was critical of the company's behaviour.

Louise Haigh MP said: "P&O Ferries have refused to do the right thing from the beginning of this scandal, and they've only been dragged [to this point] under the threat of criminal sanctions and hefty fines by the French government."

P&O Ferries declined to comment or answer questions about the changes it has planned. The company has stated previously that it always complies with national and international laws and that its crews are well-rested.

P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite. Credit: PA

Until now, P&O has exploited a legal loophole which exempts the payment of the national minimum wage to seafarers who are employed by an overseas agency and work on foreign-registered ships in international waters.

In the UK, legislation to remove this exemption is expected to take effect in the summer.

Analysis by Brittany Ferries, which has not adopted P&O's low-cost business model, shows that any ferries company which fails to comply with the new law on both sides of the Channel faces a fine of £76,000 a day.

The boss of P&O has been called to give evidence to MPs examining working conditions in Britain.

Peter Hebblethwaite is expected to be questioned by the business and trade committee on Tuesday May 7.

He will appear on a panel of executives from companies that have been "named and shamed" for paying less than the UK minimum wage.

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