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News Item: UK seeks Europe-wide maritime minimum wage after P&O debacle

The UK government said Wednesday it wants a minimum European wage for maritime workers, after P&O Ferries sacked almost 800 seafarers to replace them with cheaper agency workers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told parliament that collaboration was needed as the government looks to manage the fallout from P&O’s actions, given maritime law is largely governed by international rules, obligations and treaties.

“I’ve already contacted my counterparts in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany to discuss how maritime workers on direct routes between our countries should receive a minimum wage,” he said.

“I’m delighted to say the response has already been very, very positive, particularly with my French counterpart,” Shapps added, describing the proposed scheme as “minimum wage corridors between our nations”.

His comments came as almost 200 trade unions representing 10,000 transport workers jointly wrote to Dubai-based DP World to protest at the unlawful sacking of crew at its UK unit P&O Ferries.

The open letter, delivered to DP World chief executive Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem on Tuesday, comes after the firm admitted it had deliberately chosen to ignore its legal obligations to save costs after being hit by pandemic fallout.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has attacked P&O’s move as “callous”, and vowed that his government would take the company to court over the matter.

The union letter called for the immediate reinstatement of workers who were sacked via Zoom on March 17 and replaced by cheaper agency staff in a move that sparked angry protests across P&O facilities.

“The manner in which this has been done appears to be in clear violation of UK labour legislation and international labour standards, a fundamental breach of collective bargaining and an attack on workers’ rights,” it said.

The letter went on to say that “around the world transport workers and our allies in civil society expect and demand better.

“Multinational corporations like yours can and should treat workers with dignity and respect their rights under the law.”

– Meeting urged –

The letter urged DP World to “urgently” convene a meeting with unions and the British government to “rectify” the situation.

And it called for the company to guarantee that workers would not face similar treatment at any other DP World subsidiary.

“DP World’s much-vaunted sustainability statements are meaningless if you allow your subsidiary company to act illegally and directly undermine those very rights in the UK,” it added.

Union signatories included the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the European Transport Workers’ Federation, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, and Nautilus International.

The letter was published after P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite last week admitted to British lawmakers that the company had chosen to break UK employment law.

Shapps has called on Hebblethwaite to resign and for the company to rehire the workers.

However, the P&O chief has insisted that the company will not reverse its decision.

Shapps has also ordered inspections of all P&O vessels amid safety fears over the hiring of inexperienced agency staff.

Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has meanwhile detained two P&O ships which failed inspections of emergency equipment, crew training and documentation.

The group’s vessel, European Causeway, was held at Larne, north of Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday.

And another ship, Pride Of Kent, was detained at the port of Dover on the English southeast coast on Monday.

But P&O on Wednesday accused the MCA — an arm’s length agency of the Department for Transport — of operating with “an unprecedented level of rigour” over its ships.

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