PAY FREEZE: Tug boat workers ballot for strike action
A ship docked at Teesport, Image: River Tees Port Health Authority
Tug boat workers at a Teesport firm are to vote on strike action in response to a proposed “pay freeze”.
And workers’ union Unite has warned action could bring the port to a standstill before Christmas.
Svitzer Marine operates vessels which tow large ships into Teesport.
Talks have continued all year between the firm and the union after agreement failed to be reached over a pay offer.
A push for a ballot was revealed in September after workers shared their anger and frustration at the company’s refusal to offer a pay rise.
Now a vote for industrial action has opened and will close on November 12.
Unite says the crews are furious after working through the pandemic amid a significant increase in volumes of freight coming into Teesside.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members have kept vital goods flowing through this major gateway port throughout the most difficult year in living memory and the thanks they get is a pay freeze.
“Maersk the shipping giant, which owns Svitzer Marine, is on course to make record profits touching £12bn.
“There is no justification whatsoever for a pay freeze. Unite will fight that.”
Strike action could begin in early December on the back of the ballot.
Unite regional officer Pat McCourt said Unite had “exhausted every avenue” to try and resolve the dispute through negotiation.
“It’s up to Svitzer and above them Maersk to get back to the table with a new offer,” he added.
Inflation is set to rise to 4% next year, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Mr McCourt said Svitzer had done well on Teesside in recent years, with the majority of activity carried out by tugs at the port co-ordinated by the firm.
“This is just pure greed, it’s all you can put it down to,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Svitzer said: “For the past 10 months, we have been interacting with the local union representatives around resolving the current situation.
“But unfortunately, and despite our efforts, we have not been able to settle the matter.
“We have been informed that Unite has decided to exercise their lawful right to conduct a ballot amongst their members to test if the local members support an industrial action.
“Svitzer respects the right of its employees to hold a lawful ballot on whether they should take industrial action and if the ballot is in favour, then the taking of such lawful industrial action.”
The ongoing dispute comes amid the launch of the new Teesside Freeport, due to gain its status next month.
As many as 18,000 new jobs have been touted over the next five years from the tax relief zones.
A row between Unite and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen broke out last week after the union called for assurances over protections for workers.
Mr McCourt believed the dispute raised “serious questions” about the freeport strategy.
But Mr Houchen said it was a dispute between a private company and a union, adding it had “nothing to do with freeports”.
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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