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EC move may prove disaster for port jobs

PUBLISHED: 19:01 15 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

OPPONENTS of new laws which could threaten 12,000 jobs at Felixstowe port were today reeling from an enormous blow after Euro MPs narrowly voted for the changes.

OPPONENTS of new laws which could threaten 12,000 jobs at Felixstowe port were today reeling from an enormous blow after Euro MPs narrowly voted for the changes.

But MEPs against the new legislation, union leaders and port bosses, vowed not to give up their battle and promised to fight "a war of attrition" to stop what they believe could be a highly-damaging EC directive.

The European Parliament sitting in Strasbourg voted by 271 to 250 to pass the first reading of the new legislation, defeating an amendment to remove cargo-handling from the plan.

Suffolk Labour MEP Richard Howitt said: "Whatever the balance of opinion in the European Parliament, it remains fundamentally wrong to force the Port of Felixstowe to lose profits against investment it has made in good faith and threaten to replace secure, good quality cargo-handling jobs with casual stevedores, undermining health and safety standards in the port's operation.

"I promised the port's management and unions we would work to defeat the proposals.

"And although we have not yet won at this first stage of the process, I will work with other Euro MPs in a war of attrition at every stage until and unless the proposal is withdrawn."

Mr Howitt was furious at the lack of support from Conservative MEPs and said he "utterly condemned their failure to work with us".

Despite pledging support for the bid to stop the new law, Conservatives withdrew their signatures from the amendment and their spokesperson was missing from his place when called to speak in the debate.

Mr Howitt said more work would take place over the next few months to try to persuade a majority of Euro MPs to support the moves to remove cargo-handling from the scope of the new law when it comes for its second reading in 2002.

The legislation would force ports to open many internal services to competition, including quayside loading and unloading operations, warehousing and rail services. Pilotage has been removed from the directive.

If stevedoring was put out to private tender, it could mean all workers being forced to work for new and separate companies for possibly less pay, or more than 1,900 job losses with new companies bringing in their own workforces.

There could be two or more different companies employing people to handle containers and people only being required to work when ships were on berth.

Union chiefs fear the scheme could take the port industry back more than 50 years with men having to wait for calls on their mobile phones each day to know if they have work.

Port managing director Chris Gray has said it will be "a disaster for the local community, for the 2,650 direct employees, and a disaster for the town if it comes into force".

WEBLINKS: Port of Felixstowe – www.hph.com.hk/business/ports/europe.felixstowe.htm

European Union – www.europa.eu.int

Transport and General Workers' Union – www.tgwu.org.uk

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