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Underpaid P&O seafarers to benefit from new French legislation 

P&O Ferries has faced backlash for its fire and rehire tactics

France has implemented new legislation that requires ferry operators to pay their crew at least £9.95 an hour and limit seafarers’ time onboard ships to two weeks.

A letter sent by ferry operator P&O’s Maltese employment agency Philcrew Management to its workers engaged by P&O said: “Serious consequences [for ferry operators] are provided for violating such new provisions”.

Kash Dosanjh, an associate at law firm Wright Hassall, explained that the UK is set to introduce similar legislation later this year.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “As a result of P&O case, the UK has taken a strong stance by introducing new legislation to protect UK seafarers, improving their pay and their working conditions.

“The Seafarer’s Wages Act 2023, which is expected to come into force June 2024, aims to improve pay for seafarers predominantly based in the UK, and to prevent them from being paid less than the national minimum wage.”

The legislation would mean that if a service uses a single UK harbour at least 120 times in a 12-month period, the harbour authority can ask the operator to declare that any seafarers working on the service are paid the national minimum wage for their UK work.

The UK legislation would require ferry operators to pay a minimum of £11.44 an hour.

Read more: P&O Ferries paid some workers £4.87 an hour through agency loophole

He added that the legislation will include further protections to ensure seafarers receive sufficient pay.

Dosanjh continued: “Additionally, the legislation will allow authorities to charge operators of vessels and to refuse harbour access if they cannot provide evidence they are paying their seafarers at least the national minimum wage.

“In response to the P&O case, the UK government has put into place a nine-point plan, which includes working with international partners to improve seafarer protections and welfare, the improvement in long-term working conditions of seafarers, and the creation of a statutory code for fire and rehire, in respect of failure to engage in employee consultations.”

The legislation is in response to controversial fire and rehire action by P&O two years ago, when the ferry operator laid off 786 employees. It subsequently hired agency replacements and made use of a legal loophole that allowed them to pay below the minimum wage.

In March 2024, The Guardian revealed that P&O had paid as little as £4.87 an hour, although a P&O representative told parliament that the lowest rate these replacements were paid was £5.15 an hour.

Read more: Fire and rehire crackdown "lacks bite", unions say

A spokesperson from P&O Ferries said it didn’t recognise the pay rates of below £5 an hour, and that it always pays at least the minimum wage required by national and international law. The UK minimum wage is currently £11.44 an hour. 

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak told HR magazine that the government should have acted more quickly to close pay loopholes.


He said: "It's a national embarrassment that the French government is acting to close legal pay and hours loopholes exploited by P&O Ferries while the UK government still dithers. 


"Two years ago, when P&O Ferries unlawfully sacked 800 seafarers without notice or consultation, Conservative ministers said they would change the law to make sure this is never allowed to happen again. 


"But the feeble reforms ministers have brought in so far won't stop another P&O Ferries-type scandal. Seafarers' conditions have only deteriorated since 2022. It's time for a mandatory seafarers' charter to boost pay and conditions in the ferries sector. 


"And we need a new deal for workers, like Labour is proposing, to make our labour laws fit for the 21st century and give all workers the protection they need. "