Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Strike action looms at port after dockworkers' vote

Sarah Chambers

Felixstowe docks owner Hutchison Ports and Unite officials will meet to discuss a dispute over outsourcing Picture: JANICE POULSON

Fresh talks are due to be held at Felixstowe docks on Thursday (January 16) after union members voted decisively in favour of strike action.

Port of Felixstowe boss Clemence Cheng has written twice to workers about the threat of strike action  Picture: MIKE PAGE
A row over outsourcing which began with about 116 engineering workers at the docks before Christmas over plans by the Port of Felixstowe to transfer some jobs to Universal Tyres spread to the wider workforce when Unite decided to ballot them on strike action. 
The engineering workers were due to strike just after Christmas, but that action was averted while Acas talks took place.
The company has also refused to comment on the situation, but port boss Clemence Cheng wrote to the workforce before the festive break expressing his concerns about the damaging effects the threatened strike action might have on the business.
He advised workers to "think carefully" and warned the actions could be deeply damaging.
"Any vote in favour of action risks more serious consequences for the business, for your personal earnings, and for jobs," he said.
"We have seen other ports crippled by industrial action in the past and which have not fully recovered to this day."
Mr Cheng admitted he was "baffled" about the point of the ballot, as seven of the eight affected staff have chosen to be redeployed at the port rather than take up jobs at Universal Tyres on the same terms and conditions and one has opted for retirement and he believed the matter had been resolved.
"We have a fundamentally strong business to which I know the overwhelming majority of employees are very loyal. It is ours to lose," he said.
"Strike action, or a vote in favour of a strike, will damage our business and all of us that work in it. No one is threatening your jobs or your income other than those encouraging you to take this action."MORE - Christmas port strike averted as talks continue

Meanwhile, the rest of Unite's 1,800 membership was balloted on industrial action because of fears that the plans to transfers the tyre fitting operation which lies at the centre of the dispute could be the start of what the union views as an unwelcome trend.
The ballot opened on December 24 and closes on January 14.
Felixstowe dockworkers have voted in favour of strike action  Picture: KEN SOUTHALL
Following union members' vote in favour of action, Unite and the company will meet again - but it refused to comment further.
A Unite spokesman said: "Unite members have voted decisively for strike action. As a result Unite is holding fresh negotiations with the company this Thursday (January 16). Unite will not be commenting further until the negotiations are completed."

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