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P&O boss’ misleading wages claim an attempt to spin away company’s appalling seafarer exploitation

13 May 2024
Press Release

Ferry CEO Peter Hebblethwaite pulls wool over MPs’ eyes by claiming to pay more than double an internationally agreed seafarer wage 

Disgraced P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite appeared for another grilling in Parliament last week, before MPs on the Business and Trade Select Committee.

The P&O Ferries boss, who appeared before Parliament in 2022 after his company sacked 786 staff and replaced them with low-paid agency staff from the global south, this week finally admitted to paying P&O Ferries’ seafarers an amount he told MPs he couldn’t live on, less than £5 an hour – while taking home a £183,000 bonus in April 2023, on top of his £325,000 basic salary. 

But Hebblethwaite also misled MPs by claiming that the paltry salary paid to P&O Ferries’ seafarers is in line with International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) minimum basic wages. The ITF rates Hebblethwaite cited are for the international merchant trade – they have never been intended to apply to European ferry routes. 

ITF Ferry Task Force Chair Ronny Øksnes said: “The rates Mr Hebblethwaite refers to have no place on domestic or European ferry routes, or in any economically developed country’s ferry sector – the ITF doesn’t support their use in this way, it never has and never will.

“P&O using these rates to explain the wages it pays to agency seafarers on its ferries is nothing more than a fake justification of the shocking seafarer exploitation that is part and parcel of P&O’s business model.”

Hebblethwaite told the Committee: “The International Labour Organisation has an agreement with the International Transport Workers’ Federation that there is a minimum basic wage of, dependent on exchange rate, about £2.18. 

“We then pay nearly double that. And in addition to that, the Marine [sic] Labour Convention, the MLC, requires us to pay in addition to that basic wage, a guaranteed overtime, a guaranteed bonus and holiday, and that takes payment per hour to something like £5 an hour.”

In 2022, Hebblethwaite claimed that none of the P&O Ferries replacement crew received less than £5 an hour. The company denied this again in the face of reports by ITV and the Guardian in March 2024, before finally admitting the truth this week.

Hebblethwaite also told MPs that P&O Ferries’ crew are given seven and nine days’ leave per month, respectively, when working on Dover-Calais or North Sea ferry routes. However, ITV and the Guardian found crew payslips showed they were working seven days a week for up to 17 weeks, without a day off and without permission to leave the ship.

When asked if the ITV and Guardian coverage was wrong, after an awkward silence and a prompt to deny the allegation from the Committee chair, Hebblethwaite said: “I can only tell you what we do.”

The ITF, its affiliates the RMT and Nautilus, and the UK Trades Union Congress, are all united in a joint call for a ‘Mandatory Seafarers’ Charter’ placing legally binding minimum protections on pay and conditions – as opposed to the voluntary charter currently supported by the UK Government. 

Since the P&O Ferries scandal, the opposition UK Labour Party has consistently outlined its commitment to a Mandatory Seafarers’ Charter, if elected at the UK General Election. 


Notes to editors                                                         

  • According to the ITF Athens Policy, on ferries trading between European countries, the crews shall be covered by the national conditions in the countries concerned. For example, if a ferry travels between the UK and France, it shall have either UK or French national conditions onboard, irrespective of the flag of the vessel and the nationality of the crew. If those conditions vary a lot between the countries concerned, the policy states that the highest shall be used.
  • The Seafarers’ Charter is available here.
  • For more information on the UK Labour Party’s ‘five-point plan’ to prevent a repeat of the P&O Ferries scandal, see here.

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