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MARITIME union RMT slammed law-breaking P&O Ferries today after the disgraced company made an unsuccessful attempt to cut the pay of its new, cheaper agency staff.
The union vowed to keep the pressure on P&O after the U-turn and also repeated its calls for the company to be taken into public ownership and for the 800 workers it sacked in a crude cost-cutting move to be reinstated.
Last month, P&O Ferries boss Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to MPs that the dismissal of the workers without notice was illegal.
The RMT said that it had intervened on Sunday after the company tried to force agency workers to sign new contracts with sharply reduced pay.
P&O was forced to back down after RMT called in the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), which reinstated the agency workers’ original wages.
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 the UK minimum wage of £9.50 per hour.
“Ultimately, staffing ships with superexploited agency staff is not just morally wrong, it undercuts those remaining ferry operators who do abide by union rates of pay and conditions and undermines passenger safety.
“The only way out of this latest crisis at the ferry operator is for the government to take over the running of P&O vessels and reinstate directly employed staff on union rates of pay.“
However, in a statement published today, P&O Ferries claimed that “no agency seafarers were asked to accept reduced wages” and that there had been an “administrative misunderstanding.”
RMT rejected these assertions, with a union spokesman saying: “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.
“We have seen contracts of agency workers where they are being paid the equivalent of £4.35 an hour for 17 weeks’ work.”
The Sunday Mirror reported seeing an email from an agency seafarer who said: “They don’t care about rights. This is my sixth day working without contract, please help us. They try to give us less money. We are desperate.”
RMT national secretary Darren Procter said that P&O Ferries had “brought people in on a month’s contract, some on two-month contracts” and then told them that they had to accept lower pay rates if they wanted to stay on.
Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “P&O Ferries have sunk to a desperate new low, all while the £325,000 per year chief executive faces no consequences whatsoever.
“This shameless board should be struck off for good. Ministers are still letting them get away with it.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who has vowed to introduce legislation to bring P&O into line, said that the company “must pay the minimum wage like all UK businesses.”
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