UK ports will be required to check whether ferry crews are paid at least the national minimum wage following the P&O Ferries sackings, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.
The Cabinet minister told MPs that the Government will introduce new legislation in response to the company’s decision to replace nearly 800 seafarers with cheaper agency workers.
The new crew are paid an average of just £5.50 per hour.
This is below the UK’s national minimum wage of £9.50 per hour, but P&O Ferries insists it is in line with international maritime law.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Mr Shapps said the Government will include amendments to the 1964 Harbours Act in the Queen’s Speech on May 10.
He said “we won’t be expecting ports to physically enforce” the new minimum wage requirement on ferries.
“What we will require them to do is ask for confirmation and clarification – in the same way as they ask, for example, that the relevant insurance has been paid – that the relevant pay was being made.”
Mr Shapps said enforcement of minimum pay rules for ferry workers will be the responsibility of himself and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), but ports will “have a check that they will do to ensure (a ship is) within the law”.
He denied that P&O Ferries has “got away” with sacking 786 crew members, stating there are “three things that P&O will need to do to get out of this mess”.
Chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite’s refusal to resign despite admitting to MPs that the company broke the law by not consulting with trade unions is “completely unsustainable” and “he will have to go”, according to Mr Shapps.
The minister urged P&O Ferries to repay the £11 million of furlough money it claimed from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic.
And he added that the company “will have to pay the minimum wage” when new legislation is introduced.
P&O Ferries resumed cross-Channel sailings on Tuesday night for the first time since the mass sackings on March 17.
The vessel Spirit Of Britain began operating between Dover and Calais for carrying freight customers.
Passenger services are expected to resume early next week.
Spirit Of Britain was detained by the MCA on April 12 after safety issues were found, but was cleared to sail on Friday.
Another P&O Ferries ship, European Causeway, was adrift five miles off the coast of Northern Ireland for more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon after losing power.
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch said: “After yesterday’s vessel ran adrift off the coast of Larne, no P&O ferry should set sail on safety grounds.
“Staffing ferries with undertrained, ill-equipped, overworked and grossly underpaid seafarers blatantly undermines maritime safety.”
European Causeway, which can carry up to 410 passengers, got into difficulty after losing power while sailing between Cairnryan in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for P&O Ferries said it had been a temporary issue and the European Causeway had travelled to Larne “under its own propulsion”.
On Wednesday, the MCA said: “Our surveyors are carrying out a full inspection of P&O Ferries vessel European Causeway.
“This follows the mechanical failure while it was at sea yesterday.”