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UK dock contract dispute sparks international reaction

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Dockers at Tilbury took action over “follow the ship” contract

A contract dispute in the UK port of Tilbury could escalate to an international level, after the repeated refusal of management to engage in genuine dialogue with the union.  

Workers at the Enterprise Distribution Centre (EDC) took strike action earlier this month after being balloted by their union, ITF affiliate Unite the Union. The action was in response to the imposition of a “follow the ship” contract, which stipulates that dockers work when ships are ready to be unloaded, rather than to a set shift pattern. Unite has made repeated calls for genuine dialogue with management on the issue but no opportunity for good faith negotiations has been forthcoming. As a result further industrial action is planned for next week.

In addition, general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey has now written to EDC management to clarify the union’s position and call once again for the opportunity to negotiate. In his letter Mr. McCluskey said EDC was displaying an ‘unacceptable approach to industrial relations.’

Paddy Crumlin, ITF president and dockers’ section chair, commented: “This is nothing short of an attack on organised labour at the port of Tilbury. EDC is trying to make its workforce entirely flexible, with no thought whatsoever for the impact that will have on the family lives of these workers. As a result, this dispute, which could have been dealt with on a local level, is making its way towards the international arena.”  

He continued: “The ITF will be ready to stand beside workers in Tilbury if this unwillingness to negotiate continues. We won’t hesitate to call on our affiliates to take lawful action in solidarity with these UK workers, and we know from past experience the level of impact international action of this kind can have.”

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