Shipping freight operations at Scotland’s biggest container port were set to grind to a halt last night as staff began a two-week strike over changes to working conditions.
Up to 100 port workers – including some not affected by the ballot for industrial action – were due to rally outside the port from midnight as shift workers arrived to begin the strike.
At midnight, operator Forth Ports shut down its quayside container operations. The company has described the action as “unjustified”. However, union officials claim the typical employee will lose £1,800 a year in unpaid overtime as their rotas are moved to a seven-day working week.
A total of 73 of the 75 staff on site voted to strike, unions said, claiming that the change to shift patterns was a “de facto pay cut”.
The strike involves crane drivers and loaders. Around 20 engineers who also work at the site, as well as administrative staff, are not involved in the ballot, it is believed – but were set to attend last night’s rally after the end of a scheduled union meeting in Grangemouth.
Grangemouth is Scotland’s biggest container operation, handling around 150,000 containers a year and with daily sailings to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Felixstowe and Hamburg.
The dispute is believed to be over new shift rotas drawn up to tackle the move in the global shipping industry towards larger vessels, while ships are also said to be arriving more often at weekends than in the past, increasing the need for weekend working. Unions said the new rotas, which are set to be introduced next month after two previous postponements, would affect night shifts and weekend work – scrapping overtime payments for regular weekend shifts.
Sandy Smart, regional officer of Unite the Union said: “We have repeatedly approached the employer in an effort to resolve this and avoid a damaging dispute but we have been stonewalled at every turn. The anger of our members is clear in the overwhelming support for strikes and their demands for proper negotiations concerning the future of their livelihoods.”
A Forth Ports spokesman said: “The strike action proposed by Unite the Union is unjustified. We sincerely hope our staff, and their union, will cancel this strike and work with us to implement the changes necessary to enable us to meet the changing demands of our customers.”