Port workers to demonstrate in Brussels
PORT workers will travel to Brussels next week to take part in a massive demonstration against new Euro laws which could threaten thousands of jobs.Eight shop stewards from Felixstowe, plus their convenor Geordie Landles, are making the trip to coincide with MEPs' discussion on Monday of what union leaders call the "potentially most damaging" changes to ports for decades.
By Richard Cornwell
PORT workers will travel to Brussels next week to take part in a massive demonstration against new Euro laws which could threaten thousands of jobs.
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Eight shop stewards from Felixstowe, plus their convenor Geordie Landles, are making the trip to coincide with MEPs' discussion on Monday of what union leaders call the "potentially most damaging" changes to ports for decades.
They claim the new EC laws will send UK ports backwards to the bad old days of casual labour, and put health and safety at risk.
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The legislation – if approved by the European Parliament – would force ports to open many internal services to competition, including quayside loading and unloading operations, warehousing and rail services.
If stevedoring was put out to private tender, it could mean all port workers being forced to work for new and separate companies for possibly less pay, or more than 2,000 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.
At present, all port workers at Felixstowe are employed by the port's owners Hutchison Whampoa, which controls all the port's operations.
"If these laws go ahead, then it will be back to pre-1947, when men had to queue at the gates to see if they would have work – or rather they will wait for their mobile phones to ring to see if they will be needed," said Mr Landles.
"Families cannot live like that. They need to know they have a proper wage coming in so they can run a home.
"But we are also worried about the effect on safety of having different men at different times working on the quaysides. Being a port worker is a highly-skilled job these days and everyone has to know, and work to, the rules.
"Everyone in Europe is concerned about these proposed laws and workers from Holland, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy will be joining us at the demo."
Felixstowe's workers have been given support and encouragement in their efforts to fight the laws from Barry Camfield, assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, who visited them this week.
Mr Camfield – tipped to be the new general secretary – said the threat facing port workers was "potent" and people's fears were very real.
"Our great fear is that health and safety, pay and conditions, will be sacrificed for this liberalisation agenda. It could take the port industry and turn it on its head," he added.
Union leaders – and British port management – had been hoping the EC's review of ports would not have concentrated on competition within ports but competition between ports.
There is considerable anger that there is "no level playing field" in Europe with UK ports having to fund all new developments, while on mainland Europe, quay extensions are paid for by national and regional governments.
European Union – www.europa.eu.int
Transport and General Workers' Union – www.tgwu.org.uk