A plan to stop P&O Ferries undercutting the minimum wage as it recruits new staff, is not enough to “undo” its mass sackings as promised, a union is warning the government.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is poised to change the law to shut the ferry operator out of UK ports unless it abandons “sweatshop” pay rates as low as £5.15 an hour.
He is writing to Peter Hebblethwaite, the firm’s chief executive, urging him to U-turn on the decision to sack 800 workers – with the threat that it must observe the wage floor of £8.91 an hour, rising to £9.50 on 1 April.
But the maritime RMT union is saying the move does not go far enough, after Mr Shapps last week, vowed to “undo” the mass sackings and close a “loophole” that allowed them.
The transport secretary said: “We’ll be returning to parliament with a package of measures to make sure that situation is undone,” – but No 10 then refused to back up the claim.
The Department for Transport is admitting that it is not proposing to change the law to ensure the sacked workers are rehired and merely applying political pressure.
Alex Gordon, of the RMT, said P&O must be forced to go further, by ensuring the dismissed seamen’s existing employment contracts are honoured – not simply pay the minimum wage.
The union is planning to step up protests, targeting the maritime agencies involved with recruiting new workers including Clyde Marine Recruitment in Glasgow.
Mick Lynch, the RMT’s general secretary, said on Sunday: “There will be more protests, more campaigning and more political pressure this week as we ratchet up the fight.”
Keir Starmer has demanded tougher action, including against P&O’s parent company DP World, which is poised to receive “£50m as one of the freeports”.
The Labour leader also said they are unanswered questions about the warning the government received the night before the redundancies were announced 11 days ago.
Sir Keir called the “pre-recorded video” alerting staff to their sackings “absolutely shocking” – as was Mr Hebblethwaite admitting P&O had “decided it was better to break the law”.
Labour had warned of the loophole in the law, Sir Keir said, adding: “Had that loophole in the law been closed two years ago, they would not have lost their jobs in the way they did.”
Last week, a government official admitted it had “no powers” to take P&O to court – despite the firm admitting it broke the law by sacking the 800 workers without consulting them.
However, the stakes were raised by Boris Johnson insisting the controversy will go to court and telling MPs: “P&O clearly aren’t going to get away with it.”
Mr Shapps then made his promise, last Thursday, saying his law changes would “make sure that situation is undone”.