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Port jobs danger as Euro vote due

PUBLISHED: 18:24 14 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

MAJOR changes to the port industry which could threaten 12,000 jobs at Felixstowe were today set to take a big step towards becoming law.

Euro MPs were due to vote on the proposals in Strasbourg - with opponents of the plans hoping that a last-ditch protest would force a change of heart.

MAJOR changes to the port industry which could threaten 12,000 jobs at Felixstowe were today set to take a big step towards becoming law.

Euro MPs were due to vote on the proposals in Strasbourg – with opponents of the plans hoping that a last-ditch protest would force a change of heart.

They are hoping that cargo-handling and pilotage, the two most controversial elements of the scheme to make ports put all work out to contract, will be dropped.

Suffolk MEP Richard Howitt has helped form a network of Euro MPs from many countries to vote for an amendment to remove stevedores from the EC directive.

He has been supported by the management and unions at the Port of Felixstowe.

Mr Howitt told The Evening Star today: "The legislation proposed is supposed to increase competition in the ports industry, yet we have over 100 commercial ports in the UK alone and there is ample competition between them.

"Unlike in Continental Europe, almost all investment in the UK port industry has to be financed from the port's own resources, and these European proposals would tend to make such investment in Harwich and Felixstowe less attractive.

"The British Government has said that they regard the proposed directive as unnecessary and on behalf of hundreds of workers in Felixstowe who fear the changes could see their jobs substituted with casual labour, threatening training and health and safety in our port, there is a strong body of opinion in the European Parliament which will oppose these proposals altogether, unless and until cargo-handling is removed."

Today's vote is on the first reading of the new law. If the amendment is rejected, Mr Howitt has pledged to keep up his fight when the legislation comes back for its second reading next year.

The International Transport Workers' Federation has warned that its supporters will take industrial action – such as wildcat strikes – if the EC Directive is adopted.

Felixstowe port workers, affiliated to the ITWF, took part in a two-hour stoppage to attend consultative meetings, when the federation called for protest action during the summer.

Union chiefs fear the scheme could take the port industry back more than 50 years.

Geordie Landles, senior convenor for the Transport and General Workers' Union at Felixstowe port, has been working hard to persuade government ministers and MEPs to oppose the changes.

"These changes will take us back to pre-1947 when men had to go to the dock gate to see if they would get work – this time they will be waiting for their mobile phones to ring. It will harm many families and I don't know how people will be able to get mortgages," he said.

The legislation would force ports to open many internal services to competition, including quayside loading and unloading operations, pilotage, warehousing and rail services.

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 only when ships were on berth. Or more than 1,900 job losses with new 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

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

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