Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said he would support any new measures taken by the UK government to raise wages on Irish Sea ferries in response to the P&O controversy.
British transport secretary Grant Shapps has signalled that he wants to create "minimum wage corridors" between the UK and its main trading partners Ireland, France and Denmark to overhaul international maritime law so that ferry operators pay better wages to crew members.
His plans come in response to P&O’s mass sacking of 800 crew members without consultation, replacing them with agency staff paid about 40 per cent less than the UK minimum wage.
Asked whether the Government would support Mr Shapps’s proposals on Irish Sea routes, Mr Ryan said: “What happened in P&O Ferries in my mind was outrageous in terms of the shift towards cheaper wages as a solution to problems we have in the energy and transport sector.”
“If the UK government was looking at a more just approach to wage levels in that sector, I would be supportive,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the Minister confirmed that Mr Shapps had written to Mr Ryan about extending employee rights for seafarers with regard to the national minimum wage.
The Department of Transport is considering this matter in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which has responsibility for labour law.
Changes that would force ferry operators to pay minimum wage would have implications for Irish Ferries which operates Irish Sea and English Channel routes.
In 2005 the company replaced 543 crew with eastern European workers paying them less than half the Irish minimum wage that triggered a battle with unions. The company’s introduction of a Dover-Calais ferry service last year was a driver in P&O adopting the same model last month.
Mr Shapps has told MPs he wants to give UK ports the power to refuse access to regular ferry operators that do not pay workers the minimum wage. The British Ports Association has warned that the move "could be unworkable".
The Government said P&O’s move was “unacceptable treatment of seafarers who have made such an important contribution to keeping supply chains functioning through the pandemic.”
The Department of Transport said about 25 P&O employees who were made redundant were Irish seafarers but that these seafarers were not subject to irish law and employment rights.
The department said maritime transport was a "global and mobile industry," requiring a global response for effective regulation. It said it was working at an international level through the International Maritime Organisation and the EU "to strengthen the protection of seafarers."