Port drops pay cut bombshell

PORTWORKERS are today being asked to accept a massive pay cut to keep Britain's biggest container terminal running - and keep their jobs.

Richard Cornwell

PORTWORKERS are today being asked to accept a massive pay cut to keep Britain's biggest container terminal running - and keep their jobs.

The 2,500 management and quayside workers at Felixstowe have been told the port needs to make savings quickly with its downturn in business equal to having lost one of its major customers.

The pay cut will be between six and 11 per cent, depending on an employee's package, and will result from changes to terms and conditions of their contracts for this year.

The changes include the scrapping of all bonus schemes for this year, three days compulsory unpaid leave for everyone, axing of the “hot seat” changeover payments, removal of canteen subsidies, and closure of the port on Boxing Day.

The recession is biting far harder than bosses at the port - which has already shed 200 jobs this year - had expected.

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Trade through the port is vital not just to Suffolk's economy but also that of the whole country - virtually everything on our shop shelves comes through the terminal.

With unemployment soaring and other families cutting back for fear of what might come, the amount of goods being imported has dropped dramatically.

But Hutchison Ports says if employees will make the sacrifice now, they will keep their jobs and the port will be in a strong position when the economy picks up again.

Some bosses will see huge drops in pay and everyone at the port will be affected. The measures will run between now and the end of the year and it is planned to return to normal in 2010.

Chief operating officer David Gledhill said: “The volume of cargo we expect to lose this year is equivalent to losing a fairly significant customer and that is something we cannot just take on the chin.

“What we are absolutely determined not to do is to have wholesale redundancies.

“What we are asking the troops today is to take some changes to their terms and conditions so we can avoid redundancies.”

“The message we are trying to convey is there is some short-term pain and we have not taken these decisions lightly.”

HOLDING on to the skills of the workforce at Felixstowe port will be vital for its future.

Bosses fear that if people are made redundant they may well not be around when the recession ends - they may have moved away or found other work.

Chief operating officer David Gledhill said it cost a great deal of money to train crane drivers and other equipment and machine operators and the port needed to keep that investment in people and skills in place.

It is still pressing ahead with work on the �250 million expansion project, though it has renegotiated the payments for the work.

“The recession will end and the economy will come back - we don't know when that will be but we will be in a very good position to make the most of that when it happens,” said Mr Gledhill.

He added that the port was confident of gaining some new business this year but it would not replace the level of volume lost so far and that savings still have to be made.

He added: “So far this year we have had a number of people leave voluntarily - through voluntary redundancy, mutual terminal of their contract for a �10,000 payment, which has been attractive to some people, and sabbaticals - and there have been reduced hours.

“All these things though are not enough. They do not make the savings needed to reflect the loss in business we have had.”