Unite calls snap ballot among cross-Channel ferry workers over ‘two tier workforce’ threat


Unite has called a snap ballot for industrial action among port workers in Portsmouth over what the union says is a plan to dismiss staff and impose new, inferior contracts on them.

The quay assistants, who are responsible for tying up and releasing cross-Channel ferries, are being told they must guarantee to work beyond their normal finishing time at midnight.

Unite has accused Portsmouth City Council [PCC] which employs the quay assistants, of attempting to create a two-tier workforce at the port.

The ballot for industrial action, which is due to conclude next Monday (16 July), comes after it emerged that as existing quay assistants left PCC, new staff had been employed on inferior contracts which made it compulsory for them to stay on after contractual hours – until the last vessel had been serviced – and failed to pay them at what the union regarded as a sufficient level.

Unite convenor at Portsmouth city council, Richard White, said: “Unite has made numerous approaches to PCC to find a negotiated way forward, one that rewarded the commitment of quay assistants.

“However, PCC has chosen the heavy handed approach of dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms – something which we will vehemently challenge.

Unite regional officer, Ian Woodland, said: “Currently, just under half the staff are contractually obliged to service late sailings and the rest can leave at midnight.

“This has left the new staff increasingly frustrated that they have been employed to undermine the terms and conditions of existing staff and also that they are servicing vessels under the new overtime rates, but, in a majority of cases are not being paid for doing so.

“Our members have now indicated that they wish to oppose this race to the bottom and will fight to put an end to this two-tier workforce.”

Unite says it approached port management last May to find a solution to the problem and get all staff working under the same conditions, but says no agreement has been reached on various proposals it has made.

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