Tug boat crews to strike

Teesport facing huge disruption as tug boat crews announce strikes in pay dispute

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Tug boats crews employed by Svitzer Marine at Teesport, the UK’s fifth largest container port, will begin strike action early next month in a dispute over pay.

The company has attempted to impose a pay freeze on the workforce. In response, the workers who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, have voted for strike action, recording a 100 per cent yes vote in favour of walkouts.

The first strike will last 48 hours and begins on Tuesday, March 1. Two further 24 hour strikes on March 9 and 26.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Svitzer can easily afford decent pay for this workforce but has instead chosen to pocket the profits at the expense of our members’ living standards.

“But this 100 per cent ‘yes’ vote for action speaks volumes about our members’ determination to win – Svitzer would do well to heed this resounding result and come back with an acceptable offer,” she added.

“Unite has vowed that we will not allow freeports to become low wage zones which is why our members at Svitzer Marine will receive the union’s full and total support until this dispute is resolved.”

With the tug boats responsible for ensuring that the container ships are able to safely enter and leave Teesport the strike action is set to bring the port to a standstill and will have a knock-on effect well beyond the actual strike dates.

The crews, who have worked throughout the pandemic to ensure shipping freight carrying essential supplies for the UK continued to dock safely, are furious as Svitzer has financially benefitted from a significant increase in volumes coming into Teesside over the last year.

Svitzer’s parent company, the shipping giant Maersk (A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S), is forecast to make profits of $16.2 billion (£11.84 billion) for 2021, in part due to bottlenecks caused by the pandemic.

Any industrial action Unite members decide to take will have a huge impact on Teesport, the North East and the wider UK economy. Teesport is a vital ‘gateway’ for the import and export of container freight, automotive components, steel, oil and gas.

Unite regional officer Pat McCourt added, “Strike action will cause huge disruption at Teesport.  It could bring the entire operation to a standstill. This is entirely of Svitzer Marine’s own making as despite numerous attempts to resolve this dispute through negotiations they have refused to make our members a pay offer.

“Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has said that “The (Freeport) zone would bring ‘better wages for local people’.  He needs to have a serious word with Svitzer because they are proving that this is not the case.”

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers’ living standards.

By Shaun Noble

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