Seafarers minimum wage plan “half a step forward”, says TUC

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On Monday, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said a “package of measures” will block P&O Ferries’ plan to replace sacked seafarers with agency workers paid below our country’s minimum wage.

In a letter to Mr Hebblethwaite, P&O chief executive, Shapps wrote: “I will be bringing a comprehensive package of measures to Parliament to ensure that seafarers are protected against these types of actions in the way that Parliament and this Government already intended. “Through that package, I intend to block the outcome that P&O Ferries has pursued, including paying workers less than the minimum wage.”

Mr Hebblethwaite, whose basic annual salary is £325,000, told MPs last week the average pay of the agency crew is £5.50 per hour.

Commenting on this TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Closing the loophole that lets rogue employers pay less than minimum wage at sea is long overdue. But it is just half a step forward.“Ministers must make sure that P&O staff are reinstated on their previous pay – a union-negotiated rate that is significantly higher than the national minimum wage.  “And if ministers are opening up the possibility of legislative change, then they should bring forward their long-promised employment bill, to outlaw fire and rehire and root out bad employers across the economy.”

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, commented: “It remains to be seen how successful the legal and political approach adopted by the main unions involved will be.

There are signs of some significant gains. The sacked workers, however, have largely signed the redundancy agreements complete with gagging clauses.

The “enhanced” packages included compensation for their refusal to consult workers and trade unions on the redundancy plans. But they threatened to leave workers with only the bare minimum statutory redundancy payments if they didn’t accept the package in a few days.

It was effectively blackmail designed to force workers to give up the fight to get their jobs back—and get around the law. It seems to have worked although P&O will pay a price down the road.

Some have argued that the ports should have been immediately blockaded by our unions and I have some sympathy for that viewpoint.

There are certainly lessons to learn here.”

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