P&O Ferries: Staff Rosters

Transport – in the House of Commons on 19th May 2022.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Whether he has made a recent assessment of the potential safety implications of roster patterns worked by seafarers employed on P&O Ferries’ vessels.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Responsibility for ensuring roster patterns comply with international hours of work requirements lies with the owner-operators and flag state. It is for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as the port state, to verify that those requirements are being met.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

May I rapidly explain to the Minister why I tabled this question? On the intensive Dover to Calais route, P&O wants agency crew to work over 230 round trips before a period of rest. The experienced local crew it replaced worked 18 round trips before a rest period. This is where P&O is cutting its wage bill; it is not just doing it through minimum wage avoidance. Will he take steps to ensure that the legislation announced last week will cover roster patterns, so that the remaining major employers of British seafarers, such as DFDS and Stena, which have reasonable roster programmes, are not undercut by the likes of P&O, both on pay and maritime safety?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point. If there are concerns that the MCA is made aware of, those will of course be investigated. With regards to the action we would take, the legislation announced is relatively narrow in scope and deals with the minimum wage aspect. However, the point the right hon. Gentleman rightly raises is being considered as part of the fair ferries national framework agreement being developed by the Department in conjunction with the UK Chamber of Shipping, operators and the unions.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

What P&O did—and it was willing to admit this—was break the law. It refused to allow the usual consultation rights, and Parliament needs to do something to fix that. Surely the Government need to be in a position to take the likes of P&O on and get an injunction, so that consultation rights are left intact. Will the Minister speak to other Ministers across Government to ensure that this rather large hole gets filled?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Yes. My hon. Friend raises a very good point. There is a package of nine measures that we are taking to tackle the disgraceful behaviour of P&O, which the House is united in condemning. Conversations will go on between ourselves and other Departments, particularly the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which holds responsibility for the area of legislation my hon. Friend mentioned.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

As the Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman, said, P&O brazenly broke the law, and it has faced no consequences for that action. Last week, the chief executive officer, whom the Transport Secretary said is not fit to be in charge of P&O, was promoted to the board. P&O is laughing in the faces of this Parliament and the public, and the Government are frankly letting the company get away with it. When will they get tough and seek a court order banning the entire board from office?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

It is obvious nonsense that the Government are not acting. There are nine actions that we are taking to tackle the utterly disgraceful behaviour of P&O. The hon. Lady should be absolutely clear that P&O is responsible for this situation, not the Government; we are taking action. It is also worth remembering the model that Irish Ferries introduced in 2004, because the Labour Government did nothing, and she has done nothing. This Government are the ones who are taking action now.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I am back again, Mr Speaker, and I completely agree with the shadow Secretary of State, Louise Haigh. The Government have unveiled plans to allow ports to surcharge or block ferry companies such as P&O if they do not comply with national minimum wage legislation. I welcome anything that makes life harder for the likes of P&O, but why are the Government ducking their responsibility to amend and enforce employment law, and instead palming it off to the private sector? Is it not time that maritime employment law was devolved to Holyrood, and that a Government committed to taking action against the likes of P&O? Is it not time that that Government were given the power to get on with the job?

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I have explained, the Government are committed to taking action. We have nine points that we are addressing, and ports are being asked to act because they are the area where we have control and where we can enforce national minimum wage legislation. That is a critical plank of the action we are taking—it is not everything, but it is one of the most important things. We will continue to talk to colleagues across Government about any other steps we might take on employment legislation more generally.