Both unions and the British Ports Association (BPA) have criticised the UK Government’s introduction of a seafarers’ minimum wage law, calling it “likely unworkable.”
“This proposal is feeble and highly unworkable,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the union TUC. “Only stronger employment legislation that boosts worker protections and stops companies firing on the spot will prevent another P&O-type scandal.”
Under the proposal, ferry operators docking at UK ports will be banned from setting sail if their employees are not paid the equivalent to the UK minimum wage.
Announced yesterday during the Queen’s Speech, the legislation was proposed after ferry operator P&O sacked 800 seafarers and replaced them with agency labour, who were not paid the UK minimum wage when operating in international waters to and from the UK.
P&O’s line was that its agency workers were paid according to international maritime law.
“We will protect all seafarers regularly sailing in and out of UK ports and ensure they are not priced out of a job,” announced transport secretary Grant Shapps.
“Ferry operators which regularly call at UK ports will face consequences if they do not pay their workers fairly.”
The measure will be subjected to a four-week consultation to examine which additional types of vessels can be introduced in the bill and what kind of measures can be enforced.
A suspension of port access, surcharges and fines feature among those currently under consideration.
The announcement comes after transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee the new legislation would require ports to “ask for confirmation and clarification” just as they do when it comes to insurance.
Commenting on the news, BPA’s chief executive Richard Ballantyne called the new regulation “unprecedented.”
“Enforcing the minimum wage is not an area where ports have a core competency,” he said.
“Ports facilitate the safe and efficient movement of ships, goods, passengers and maritime activities, safely and efficiently, they are not regulators.”
According to Ballantyne, the bill might not be compatible with both international treaties as well as the UK’s domestic principles.
“It remains unclear whether the bill will achieve the government’s aims of improving longstanding issues for seafarers,” Ballantyne added while Mark Dickinson, general secretary of union Nautilus said the amendments “would not meet the desired outcome of forcing a re-think from P&O.”