P&O urged to change course as union claims new agency staff ‘earning less than £2 an hour

The reputation and commercial viability of P&O will take a “massive hit” if the ferry company does not change course after the sacking of 800 workers, Stormont’s economy minister has warned.

Gordon Lyons, whose constituency includes Larne port, told the NI Assembly that he had instructed his officials to investigate potential breaches of employment law following the announcement last week.

The warning from Mr Lyons comes following union claims that Indian seafarers hired to replace sacked P&O Ferries crews are being paid just 2.38 US dollars (£1.81) an hour.

Mr Lyons updated the Stormont Assembly on the controversy, which he described as “disgraceful”.

The reputation and commercial viability of P&O will take a “massive hit” if the ferry company does not change course after the sacking of 800 workers, Stormont’s economy minister has warned.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

He said: “At the outset let me be clear; neither I, as a constituency representative in East Antrim or as Minister of the Economy, nor my officials in the department, were afforded the courtesy of advanced notice of the P&O announcement.

Read More

Read More
Safety fears raised as P&O Ferries replaces seafarers with agency workers

“I regard their actions as disgraceful. P&O has literally ripped up the employment rule book, and, in the process, simply discarded 800 of their loyal and most diligent workforce.

“Even now, I can scarcely believe how callously they behaved.”

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Mr Lyons said he understood that up to 50 staff from Northern Ireland were directly affected.

He added: “The stories I heard of staff being escorted off ships, by men in balaclavas, carrying handcuffs, was as sinister as it was outrageous.

“Deploying such a tactic here, in Northern Ireland, to an unsuspecting workforce is so ill-judged and shocking, our condemnation alone is simply not enough.”

“It must be in P&O’s interest to engage, because let us be in no doubt: their reputation, not to mention their future commercial viability, stands to take a massive hit here if they do not change course.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

“They may want to hide behind the small print of maritime law that might, in their eyes, justify what they have done. But the court of public opinion will not be so sympathetic.”

P&O said on Monday that ferries between Larne in Co Antrim and Cairnryan in Scotland remain suspended.

A tweet said the services were “unable to run for the next few days” and it had not been able to arrange alternative travel for the route.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which represented many of the 800 staff fired without notice last week, said their replacements are being paid well below the minimum wage in the UK.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid 2.38 dollars an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked.

“The rule of law and acceptable norms of decent employment and behaviour have completely broken down beneath the white cliffs of Dover and in other ports, yet five days into this national crisis the Government has done nothing to stop it.

“These ships of shame must not be allowed to sail. The Government has to step in now and take control before it’s too late.”

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

But companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages.

No sailings have operated since P&O told 800 staff they were to lose their jobs.