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The forthcoming London Gateway container terminal in the UK could be one of the first in the country without a significant portion of its workforce enjoying union membership, according to representatives for the UK’s largest union, Unite.

Unite regional representative Jane Jeffery told The Loadstar that London Gateway had refused to recognise the union as the company embarks on a major recruitment drive ahead of its planned opening in the fourth quarter of this year.

“We have had three or four meetings with London Gateway management and they have made it quite clear to us that they will not recognise Unite.

“The next step is to try and make our presence better known to them and potential employees, and try to make them see sense. If not, we will be organising a full campaign for recognition,” she said, adding that an initial action had seen Unite representatives demonstrate outside a jobs fair, at which London Gateway had a stand, at the Holiday Inn hotel in Dartford on 5 February.

However, a London Gateway spokesman responded: “Unite representatives have been to visit DP World London Gateway twice within the last year and have asked if we would give ‘site recognition’ to Unite. On both occasions, we have responded that membership of any union, including Unite, would be a free choice matter for London Gateway employees to decide upon, and if membership of one or more unions reached the level where recognition was applicable then we would be very happy to do so.”

Union recognition would allow collective bargaining between the management and union, although even if a union is not recognised, a works council or some other form of consultative body has to be set up.

Ms Jeffery said: “Management has told us that they are doing job fairs now to get the dockworkers in place and training them up during the summer, and that they are looking to recruit from outside the industry because it is going to be an automated terminal, and they do not want to recruit dockers who will then have to un-learn their existing skills.”

This broadly chimes with what The Loadstar has learnt from ports and shipping insiders in the UK – that the company is keen to recruit its labour from outside the existing UK port workforce, seeing the launch of a new terminal as a chance to employ workers “untainted by bad practices at existing ports”.

Terminal operations experts canvassed by The Loadstar also made the point that an experienced crane driver working at an existing UK port may not be as experienced on the cranes London Gateway will deploy. “Any driver is only ever experienced on the equipment he is used to using, so in effect at London Gateway all drivers may be inexperienced unless the same cranes exist at other local ports,” one said.

The general expectation, according to one source, is that London Gateway will hire “a number of inexperienced younger guys to be employed over time, so they can be trained-up specifically on the cranes it is acquiring”, although there is understood to have been a high degree of interest in London Gateway positions from staff at existing terminals keen to know how the terms and conditions compare with incumbent operations.

London Gateway will be the first port in the country to operate automated handling technology – employing a fleet of automated stacking cranes in its yard, with straddle carriers running between semi-automated ship-to-shore gantry cranes. London Gateway said these units will “have significant automation built-in, but be overseen by a crane driver who can take control at any time, particularly at the transfer point. This will allow good crane rates to be consistently achieved with in-built safety”.

However, Ms Jeffery also highlighted Unite’s concern that its members’ jobs at other ports could be jeopardised by London Gateway’s entry into a market that is showing little growth.

“The problem that we have got is that as soon as a line pulls out of Felixstowe or Southampton or Tilbury, some of the jobs at those ports might be lost. Most dockers are well-paid and highly skilled and there is a risk that they will be replaced at London Gateway with roles with inferior terms and conditions,” she said, suggesting that this could force other port operators to seek to cut costs in a bid to retain business.

“There is already overcapacity in the UK’s container ports and we believe that this port should not be opened with the current overcapacity nationally.

“We are presently seeing other port owners and management engaging in a race to the bottom to compete against London Gateway. We are concerned that should DP World embark on this course it could affect the future financial viability of the deepsea container ports at Southampton and Felixstowe/Harwich, where Unite is recognised,” she said.

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  • Murry Rothbard

    February 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    What business do Unite have in dictating to LG who they can and cannot employ? What arrogance. They are simple luddites who wish to slow down economic progress by protecting the inflated wages of their members. Just look at what unions are doing to container trades on East and West coasts of the US. The West is reverting to socialist based societies that – ironically – are and will continue to be overtaken by Asian and Latin American competitors.

  • Chris Scott

    February 16, 2013 at 9:22 am

    London Gateway should be congratulated, applauded & appreciated for investing billions into this project, creating thousands of jobs, as well as creating wealth for the local and wider economy – not to mention billions of pounds in tax receipts for the exchequer.
    London Gateway have taken exactly the right approach in leaving the decision of union membership to the individual. It is absolutely disgusting Unite sent representatives to cause trouble at London Gateway’s job fair in Dartford and should stop poking their noses into London Gateway’s self-funded business.

    I don’t believe for one moment Unite are worried about the jobs of their members at other UK ports and imagine it’s more to do with the prospect of losing the membership fees that fund the leaderships salaries which are far greater than their members.

  • Mo Hadjkura

    February 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    As reported by MPs recentely UNITE is ‘scandalous’ Unite, led by the hard-Left former docker, is trying to exploit jobs for political and financial purposes. In return for £26 a year in ‘subs’.
    Rather than support a mass job creation scheme instead they want to slow-down our economic recovery with their usual left-wing attitides.

    I would like to congratulate LG firstly for their current stance and approach with UNITE and lastly for all their great efforts and investments into an area which is an well need of a lift and turn around.

  • Tim Cleary

    February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I have the perfect solution for Unite: invest £3.5 billion of your own funds and build your own port, that way you can happily employ a Unite recognised workforce and operate it as you please. Until then, I suggest Unite keep their nose out of London Gateways business,because we as the local community are so grateful to them for creating thousands of jobs for us and our families, which will also benefit local business in terms of goods and services and no doubt encourage investment and further job opportunities from related industry.

  • Edwin Johnson

    February 18, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    The local community are delighted at the opportunity of mass job creation and being taken off the un-employment scrap heap so that we can provide for our families and have a better standard of living. London Gateway could have chosen many countries around the world to invest their resources into building a new port, but they chose Essex. We should be eternally grateful to London Gateway for putting their money and belief into this country and more importantly in Essex. The economy needs a growing workforce and people off the unemployment register and the last thing we all need right now is a militant union intent on causing trouble and encouraging strikes so the leadership can “ justify “ their sky high salaries.

    I am truly appalled that while London Gateway are offering job creation opportunities at their job fair, Unite members were there to cause trouble – it is shameful and despicable.

    Thank you London Gateway for believing in the people of Essex and giving us the opportunity to work at a world-class facility for a world-class employer, improving our standard of living and giving us our dignity back.

  • Andy Green

    February 19, 2013 at 10:00 am

    How about those people who make such negative comments about unions give back to their employers all those things which unions have fought for and won on their behalf – sick pay, paid holidays, health and safety, occupational pensions etc.
    Unite are simply seeking good pay and benefits for all dockworkers, if those commenting care so much for these global corporations and their profits then volunteer to earn minimum wage, lose your holiday and sick pay and your pension and let’s see if your principles remain unchanged.

  • Terry Adams

    February 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Very interesting. DP are not saying that workers can’t join a union, only that it should be their choice.
    As my long departed father-in-law, a former London docker, said to me years ago “I’ve been on some silly strikes in my time,” referring to call-outs by Jack dash and his cronies in support of some dispute in faraway countries he’d never heard of………
    Unions are great when they stick to representing the workers at their place of work. The problems come when politically motivated individuals worm their way to control of the union and use their members as cannon fodder