New bill launched to ensure seafarers are paid minimum wage after P&O sackings

A P&O vessel

Seafarers who work on boats which regularly come into our ports will now be paid the UK minimum wage.

The government has introduced a new bill to stop firms using legal loopholes to pay low wages, following the P&O mass sackings.

The Government says the company's decision to dismiss 800 'loyal and hardworking workers' without consultation or notice, resulted in ministers taking immediate action to begin changing the law on seafarer pay protection.  

The Seafarers’ Wages Bill, introduced in the House of Lords on Wednesday (6 July), enables port authorities to deny access to services calling regularly at UK ports which do not pay workers equivalent rate to the UK National Minimum Wage (NMWe) for time spent in UK waters – closing a legal loophole which was exploited by P&O Ferries.  

Maritime Minister Robert Courts said: “Britain’s rich maritime history and exciting future is thanks to the extraordinary men and women who work at sea. 

“Fair pay for seafarers is a must, and the new laws we’ve introduced in Parliament today send a clear signal to operators that the UK will not let seafarers be priced out of their jobs by rogue bosses.” 

Following P&O Ferries’ mass sackings in March, the Government launched a consultation on the Seafarers’ Wages Bill in May 2022.

The response revealed the overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that pay protection must remain at the forefront of the sector’s objectives.  

As part of the policy, vessels and services that call on UK ports at least every 72 hours on average, or more than 120 times a year, will fall under the new pay requirements.

Ports as well as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Department for Transport will all be responsible for ensuring workers are paid the minimum wage. Meanwhile the Insolvency Service’s criminal and civil investigation into the circumstances of the redundancies made by P&O Ferries continues. 

The bill comes less than four months after P&O Ferries sacked 800 workers Credit: PA

Labour Markets minister Paul Scully said: “Just because someone works out at sea, it doesn’t mean they should be excluded from the protections UK workers receive.

"That’s why we’ve moved at pace to get this bill across the line, levelling the playing field and ensuring everyone working in UK territorial waters will benefit from the equivalence of the National Minimum Wage.

“We hope seafarers will soon see the difference in their pay packets, as we continue to protect and enhance the rights of all workers.”

The government says discussions are also taking place, focusing on agreements that will help to improve seafarer welfare and protections and the potential development of bilateral minimum wage corridors. 

Seafarers’ Charity chief executive, Deborah Layde said: “After P&O Ferries appalling disregard for their hardworking seafarers, many of whom had given many years of loyal service to the company, I am delighted to see Government taking steps to ensure fair pay and enhanced protections for seafarers regularly entering UK ports.

"The Seafarers’ Charity welcomes The Seafarers’ Wages Bill as an important step in recognising the substantial contribution seafarers make to our economy in what can be a very demanding job.

"At The Seafarers’ Charity we fully support efforts to ensure that all seafarers receive equivalent pay and protections as those working ashore.”   

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