Among the issues at stake are health and safety concerns associated with long working hours, as well as low pay. Trade Union Unite, which represents the quay assistants involved in the dispute, says that Portsmouth City Council plans to dismiss the workers then re-hire them on inferior contract terms.
The port assistants are responsible for tying up and releasing cross-channel ferries, and the terms of their proposed new contracts require them to guarantee to service vessels beyond their normal contractual finishing time of midnight, which could lead to work shifts of 13 hours or more.
Unite representative 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.”