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11 July 2012
Unite, the UK's largest union, has informed Portsmouth city council (PCC) that its members are being balloted for industrial action over its decision to dismiss and rehire them on inferior contracts which has created a two-tier workforce at Portsmouth International Port.
The ballot for industrial action, which is due to conclude on Monday 16 July, involves the port's quay assistants, who are employed by PCC. The quay assistants, responsible for tying up and releasing cross channel ferries, are fighting PCC's plan to dismiss them and implement a new inferior contract. The new contract will demand that quay assistants guarantee to service vessels beyond their contractual finishing time of midnight.
Unite has expressed a range of concerns with these plans including serious health and safety issues involved in working a shift of over 13 hours and also the paltry remuneration for such a commitment. Unite has pushed port management to look for a new agreement after it emerged that as existing quay assistants left PCC, new staff had been employed on inferior contracts that made it compulsory for them to stay on after contractual hours - until the last vessel had been serviced - and failed to remunerate them to a sufficient level.
Unite convenor at Portsmouth city council, Richard White, said:
“Unite has made numerous approaches to PCC to find a negotiated way forward, one that rewarded the commitment of quay assistants. However, PCC has chosen the heavy handed approach of dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms - something which we will vehemently challenge.
Unite regional officer, Ian Woodland, said:
“Currently, just under half the staff are contractually obliged to service late sailings and the rest can leave at midnight. This has left the new staff increasingly frustrated that they have been employed to undermine the terms and conditions of existing staff and also that they are servicing vessels under the new overtime rates, but, in a majority of cases are not being paid for doing so.
“Our members have now indicated that they wish to oppose this race to the bottom and will fight to put an end to this two-tier workforce.”
Unite approached port management last May to find a solution to the problem and get all staff working under the same conditions. Negotiations finally began towards the end of summer, however, after various proposals were put forward, no agreement was reached.