Jobs safe from computer cranes says port

PORTWORKERS at Felixstowe were today reassured there are no plans to cut jobs and replace them with computer-driven cranes.Automation is one of the biggest fears in Britain's port industry – used as a major money saver in the development and running of new container terminals.

PORTWORKERS at Felixstowe were today reassured there are no plans to cut jobs and replace them with computer-driven cranes.

Automation is one of the biggest fears in Britain's port industry – used as a major money saver in the development and running of new container terminals.

Felixstowe's owners, Hutchison Ports already own Thamesport, which has pioneered driverless container handling with computer-controlled working on its quaysides and storage parks.

Other ports worldwide are investing heavily in automation – the Port of Singapore spent £3 billion on automating a new terminal to maintain competitiveness and handle five million containers with a work force of just 500.


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Some people fear Hutchison's planned new terminal at Bathside Bay, Harwich, and Felixstowe's southern terminal scheme, will both be automated operations.

But the public inquiry into Bathside Bay has been assured that neither with be automated and both will create substantial numbers of new jobs – 772 direct jobs at Harwich and 621 at Felixstowe.

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Ian Chadney, senior manager for port development for Hutchison Ports, said: "We have no plans, and I reiterate this again, we have no plans, certainly no plans to automate Bathside Bay or Felixstowe South."

He said the new developments would be "highly mechanised" with use of the very latest technological quayside equipment, but would not be automated.

"It will be as mechanised as the Port of Felixstowe is now. The same method of operation will prevail," he said.

Groups campaigning against the £300 million Bathside Bay scheme have been trying to persuade the inquiry that current work to extend Felixstowe's Trinity Terminal will cure congestion problems without the need for extra development.

But Mr Chadney said because of bigger ships the Trinity extension would only provide an extra half a berth once the quay had been reorganised.

"Between 2001 and 2003 the volume at Felixstowe has been fairly flat. It has not grown in the way in which we would have thought it would have grown, say, for example, in 1998 to 1999, and that is because of the congestion," he said.

"We expected Trinity III Phase 2 to have been operational by, I think, the end of last year, which would have given us an additional 400,000 (standard-sized) containers of capacity which we do not enjoy today.

"That extra half a berth would allow us to be more flexible and create some slack or some leeway in the system that we have over there in order to generate better service levels to our customers."

He denied Bathside Bay would be used in competition with Felixstowe to get the wages down.

"We are not going to play off part of our workforce with the other part of our workforce. Why do we not do it now between those employed at Landguard and those employed at Trinity?" he said.

"Our employees are relatively well paid. A crane driver, an RTG driver, for example, will typically earn about £28,000 a year with a reasonable amount of over time. They are not paupers."

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