THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor of the House of Commons in a debate on Seafarers Wages.
Ms Doyle Price said: “I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this very welcome measure, but this should be only the start of what we do to improve the working conditions for seafarers, and not just in our own waters but globally. It is a fact that when we look at where companies are able to exploit migrant labour and other workers, our shipping industry is perhaps one of the most notorious. Following the successful World cup in Qatar, where lots of issues regarding migrant workers were raised, I think that shining a light on some of the practices in the shipping industry would be welcome.
The act of industrial vandalism perpetrated on British workers by P&O Ferries was absolutely disgusting, and I am pleased that the whole House came together to condemn that practice at the time. I commend the Government for being quite fleet of foot in bringing forward this legislation. It proves that they can be fleet of foot when they choose to be, and I hope to see more of this when problems and, in particular, injustices are highlighted. But of course this Bill is limited to EU traffic, particularly on the short seas—the kind of traffic that goes from and attends our ports in Hull, Dover and Holyhead.
I represent what I like to describe as the ports capital of the UK, in Thurrock, after the port of London moved east from the London docks to my constituency. This has been a challenging period for us. DP World owns the new London Gateway port, the newest deep-sea port in the country. We have been working hard to have good relations with the British management of that port, but we were equally condemnatory of the actions of the parent company, through P&O Ferries, towards those workers. I am keen to ensure that the management at London Gateway understand that we in Thurrock thought that was completely unacceptable. We want to labour that point, not least to protect the thousands of workers in my constituency who are employed by that company. It is important that this House sends a message to companies that wish to invest in our country that there are things we will not put up with, and that what passes for reasonable employment practice in their own jurisdiction will not pass in ours. It is important that that principle is hammered home.
We also have ports in Thurrock that serve European traffic, and they have a very different business model from those to which this legislation is directed. I highlight particularly the integrated port and shipping operation run by CLdN at Purfleet, and Britain’s newest port at Tilbury 2, which also serves the European market. It is a different model because we are talking about unaccompanied roll-on roll-off freight. For example, at Dover the HGV drivers will accompany their cargo straight on and off and hit the road, but those ships arriving from Europe at Purfleet and Tilbury are undertaking a much longer journey to make that crossing. They are not accompanied; a driver drops them off at one end, and another driver picks them up at the other. I register with the Minister that the regulations currently being drafted to address the particular situation of short seas should perhaps be used more sensitively than the regulations covering other kinds of economic operation.
As has been highlighted, these minimum wage regulations are directed at ships that regularly attend British ports. The truth of the matter is that the ports of Tilbury and London Gateway deal with very large ships that make multiple stops around the world. Fifty years ago, some of the people working on those ships would have been my constituents, but today, frankly, my constituents are too expensive. The ships are now staffed by Filipinos, Thais and a lot of Ukrainians—I will come back to them—and we need to think about their welfare, too. I know the Government have made that case through their role in the International Maritime Organisation. If there is one thing for which I am grateful to P&O Ferries, it is for giving us the opportunity to shine a light on how our global seafaring population needs more support and more attention to its welfare.
We have heard about what would be the most appropriate enforcement authority. I echo what my hon. Friend Iain Stewart, the Chair of the Transport Committee, said about the MCA. I have seen at first hand how the MCA took action to regulate behaviour towards seafarers during the pandemic, when a number of cruise ships were stranded at Tilbury. Frankly, the seafarers on those ships were in a terrible state. They did not know how long they would be stuck there, and their welfare conditions were truly appalling. The MCA took decisive action to improve their welfare.
As we head towards Christmas, people do not worry about how the items they have purchased and wrapped to put under the Christmas tree got to the shop. The fact is that we rely on our seafarers to keep us fed and watered, and they did a fantastic job during the pandemic. The shelves were full when we went to the supermarket because the seafarers kept working. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Robert Courts is nodding in agreement, and he did a fantastic job of championing them. His door was always open when I was doing my best to represent the welfare of that community, and I thank him for everything he did. He was a truly excellent maritime Minister who did much to elevate maritime issues within Government. We do not worry too much about how things get on to the shelves, but the truth is that many people are paid not very much money and work in terrible conditions to make sure they do.
My annual treat is going down to the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Tilbury to wrap Christmas presents. We give out 3,000 presents, supported by voluntary donations. Every seafarer who passes through the port of London gets a present and a Christmas card from my constituents. The present consists of toiletries, chocolates, some London mementos and a hand-knitted hat made by Tilbury’s knitting community. It is a special thing to do because those seafarers are away from their family, and the gift shows that someone has thought about them.
I particularly highlight the welfare of Ukrainian seafarers passing through the port of Tilbury this Christmas. They are away from their family, and they are clearly very worried about them. I am pleased that we are giving them SIM cards so that they can contact their family. I thank the Department for Transport for funding the wi-fi routers that give us that facility.
I wish this Bill well, and I want it to be on the statute book as soon as possible so that we can raise the standards of behaviour towards seafarers who work on our European seas. I log my clear message to Ministers that we must also do more to raise global standards for our seafarers.