P&O scandal: Forcing ferry companies to pay UK minimum wage would ensure something good comes out of this sordid affair – Scotsman comment

The scandalous decision by P&O Ferries to sack nearly 800 staff without notice and replace them with cheaper agency workers caused justified anger across the political spectrum.

The P&O ferry Spirit of Britain sails into the Port of Dover after undergoing sea trials (Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

That anger increased when it emerged the company had taken this action despite receiving £11 million in taxpayers’ money to furlough staff during the Covid pandemic and again when chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite revealed his £325,000 salary had not been cut.

In contrast, the new crew are being paid an average of just £5.50 an hour – £4 below the UK’s minimum wage but permissible under international maritime law.

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So UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ pledge that the government will introduce new legislation to force ferry companies that use British ports to pay the minimum wage is most welcome and suggests that at least something good will come out of this sordid affair.

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His call for P&O Ferries to return its furlough money is equally just. Companies that receive public money should be made to realise that it comes with conditions, even if they are only moral and not, as they should always be, legal.

Speaking as the firm began cross-Channel sailings for the first time since sacking their staff, Shapps also called for Hebblethwaite to resign, a moderate request in comparison to union demands for him to be prosecuted and jailed.

P&O Ferries has acted in defiance of public opinion, basic standards of decency and, by Hebblethwaite’s own admission, employment law.

It’s time for our elected representatives to remind this rogue company of the importance of all three and the power that they hold.

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