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MEPs locked in a fight to save port jobs

PUBLISHED: 18:24 21 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:53 03 March 2010

A POLITICAL row has erupted over the best way to protect thousands of jobs at Felixstowe port which are under threat from proposed new EC laws.

Labour and Conservative MEPs are both insisting they are fighting to stop the directive which will force British ports to put many of their internal operations out to contract.

A POLITICAL row has erupted over the best way to protect thousands of jobs at Felixstowe port which are under threat from proposed new EC laws.

Labour and Conservative MEPs are both insisting they are fighting to stop the directive which will force British ports to put many of their internal operations out to contract.

Labour MEPs though have accused Conservatives of failing to support a bid to have cargo-handling removed from the legislation, but the Tories say Labour failed to support their bid to get all British ports removed entirely from the law.

Eastern Region Conservative, Geoffrey Van Orden, said he was astonished at what he branded as Labour's "distortion of its voting performance" and said the voting records showed in black-and-white that key amendments were defeated by Labour.

"I despair at what Labour and the Lib Dem MEPs have done. We all want greater competition in port services in Europe, and we know the potential benefits: greater efficiency, reduced costs and so on," said Mr Van Orden.

"But this is achieved in Britain by competition between ports not within individual ports.

"Instead, we risk importing more red tape and inefficiencies into British port services.

"This is bad news for British industry and British jobs. All we can do now is seek to repair the damage Labour and the Lib Dems have done when the report comes back for a second reading, but it will not be easy.

"We have had some limited success. At least we defeated the idea that there would have to be two different handlers for every category of cargo.

"And there will be greater transparency in public funding – so we will know which governments are unfairly subsidising port operators."

The Conservatives say British ports are different from their continental counterparts as they are privately-owned and funded, while many European ports receive considerable investment from regional and national governments. British ports compete with each other and services do not compete within a port.

They say the best solution would be to remove privately-owned ports from the new law.

Labour MEPs concentrated on trying to get cargo-handling withdrawn from the list of services which would be put out to tender under the law change.

Suffolk Labour MEP Richard Howitt claimed Conservative MEPs had not supported the move. He "utterly condemned their failure to work with us".

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 as casual workers, or more than 1,900 job losses with new cargo-handling companies bringing in their own workforces.

WEBLINKS

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

European Union: www.europa.eu.int

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