P&O workers ‘desperate’ after being told to sign contracts on less money

Scandal-hit P&O Ferries was accused of plumbing new depths yesterday after telling its new foreign workforce: Take a pay cut or go home.

Agency workers hired to replace the 800 illegally sacked by Zoom call claimed they have been asked to sign new contracts on lower wages.

If they don’t agree they face being out of work, it is claimed.

One agency worker penned an email to the RMT union complaining about pay and conditions on board the firm’s Spirit of Britain ferry in Dover.

He signed off by pleading: “We are desperate.”

Peter Hebblethwaite, Chief Executive of P&O Ferries

In one example, workers say chefs paid £2,336 a month on an initial temporary contract are being asked to sign new agreements giving them £195 a month less.

Darren Procter, national secretary of the RMT, which is campaigning for the dismissed P&O seafarers to be reinstated, declared: “They are just as much victims as our members.”

P&O sparked uproar last month when it sacked 786 staff without notice, to replace them with cheaper overseas staff on as little as £5.50 an hour.

The mass sackings were condemned as illegal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

And Transport Secretary Grant Shapps called for P&O’s £325,000-a-year boss Peter Hebblethwaite to quit after he admitted to MPs the company had deliberately broken employment law by not consulting unions.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

But Labor has accused the Government of “sitting on their hands” rather than holding P&O to account.

The replacement P&O workers have been employed through International Ferry Management, a Malta-based firm set up in February just five weeks before a recorded video message told P&O staff they were being made redundant.

Shipping companies registered in other countries and operating routes from UK ports to Europe are exempt from legislation and can pay below the minimum wage.

In the email seen by our sister title the Sunday Mirror, a Romanian chef says International Ferry Management and P&O were trying to make agency crew members sign new contracts after the original ones had run out.

He said: “They don’t care about our rights. This is my sixth day working without contract, please help us. They try to give us less money. We are desperate.”

Last night the Maritime and Coastguard Agency – which has cleared the Spirit of Britain to sail on the Dover to Calais route after a second safety inspection – was believed to be stepping in to try to block the lower pay contracts.

The RMT was allowed to board the Spirit of Britain last week and speak to crew who had made complaints. Some were earning less than £200 per week.

Mr Procter said: “I spoke with three Honduran crew in the terminal and explained they only have 50 minutes in port and will not set foot on dry land for shore leave for 17 weeks – as there is no time to do so.

“The color drained from their faces and I think they realized they were joining a ferry and not a P&O cruise ship!

“The contract the Hondurans have been issued is basic pay of $961 per month for 40 hours work per week.

“This equates to £748 per month for living away from family, onboard a vessel, away from loved ones on the most intensive ferry route in UK – less than £200 per week for basic hours.”

The claims came after seven workers were reportedly sacked from the same ferry for being drunk while on duty.

Four P&O ferries have been cleared to sail so far, while four others are awaiting clearance.

Mr Procter says some of the new workers were brought in on a month’s contract that expired last week.

He added: “They are saying contracts have now expired and are now being offered inferior terms and conditions of employment.

“Irrespective of their nationality, we are concerned about the seafarers.

“They are just as many victims as our members.”

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Sacked P&O chef John Lansdown, 40, who joined the company at 16, last night said it was “another example of corporate greed”.

Mr Lansdown, of Herne Bay, Kent, who is suing for unfair dismissal, said: “P&O is one of the oldest brands in the world, it represents Great Britain and this is not a very good advert for us.

“They are exploiting workers.

“If P&O are allowed to get away with what they did to us they could get away with it again and give the green light to others.”

P&O has claimed it was suffering £100million a year losses and would close with the loss of 3,000 jobs without drastic action.

The company did not respond to requests for comments.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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