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Union and P&O Ferries tussle on seafarer wage reductions

Photo: ITF P&O-ITF.jpg
The UK’s RMT union has accused P&O Ferries of attempting to cut the pay of agency seafarers, but the ferry company claims the issue was a misunderstanding.

The exchange is the latest in the ongoing public relations nightmare for P&O Ferries, which has been in the UK media spotlight since firing 800 of its seafarers without notice on March 17 in a bid to replace them with cheaper agency workers.

RMT claims a seafarer working on P&O Ferries’ Spirit of Britain had reached out for help, alleging that P&O Ferries was trying to get seafarers to sign new contracts at lower rates of pay.

RMT took that complaint to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) which investigated the claims as part of their re-inspection of Spirit of Britain; the vessel failed its initial Port State Control inspection on April 12.

An MCA spokesperson said: “The complaint made by the RMT union about seafarers’ welfare and employment contracts was fully investigated as part of the reinspection of Spirit of Britain and upheld.”

Spirit of Britain was released from detention on April 22.

A spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: “No agency seafarers were asked to accept reduced wages and we have contacted the MCA to request that they withdraw their statement, which is misleading.”

“There was an administrative misunderstanding around the contract presented to one individual who appears to have been unaware of an appendix which made clear that he would be entitled to an additional £195 a month, meaning that there was no change in his overall pay.”

RMT said it had forced P&O Ferries into an embarrassing U-turn

A union spokesman said: "P&O's statement is contradictory. On the one hand, they claim there was an "administrative misunderstanding" which they rectified. And on the other they say there was never an attempt to pay agency workers lower rates of pay.

"The fact is P&O were caught trying to pay people from South America inferior wages to their counterparts in Europe and the MCA made them change those contracts.”

P&O Ferries said it have no plans to change or reduce agency worker wages, and that it would continue to comply with national minimum wage rules.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Due to the pressure from RMT seafarers, P&O have been prevented from further cutting the pay of vulnerable agency crew.

“There are no depths to which P&O and their Dubai owners at DP world will sink to extract the maximum profit from ferry crews operating our vital maritime supply chains. This is underlined by the fact that despite this U-turn, P&O are still only paying barely half of the UK minimum wage of £9.50 per hour.”

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