Union starts strike ballot at AB Ports over pay dispute

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The Independent Online

Workers at Associated British Ports will start to vote today on strike action in protest at the company's latest pay offer.

Workers at Associated British Ports will start to vote today on strike action in protest at the company's latest pay offer.

The Transport & General Workers Unions (T&G) will start balloting members over strike action or other industrial action that stops short of a walkout but would disrupt the company's operations.

More than 300 workers at AB Ports facilities in England and Wales will receive ballot papers after the union rejected a 2.9 per cent pay offer from the company. Further talks held through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) have failed to break the deadlock over pay.

The union said AB Ports' UK performance showed a company that was enjoying "real growth, real success and real achievement".

Graham Stevenson, the T&G national organiser for transport, said: "These figures confirm what our members at AB Ports know. This is a successful, growing company whose achievements owe much to the effort of their workforce which is moving more goods at the ports. We say their contribution to these increased profits and dividends isn't being properly recognised by AB Ports."

In February, AB Ports announced its UK profits increased 3 per cent in 2004 to £142.2m. This was on sales up 5 per cent to £365.4m. The group paid a dividend of 16p per share, an increase in the payout of 5 per cent. It is planning to invest £400m over the next 10 years in developing its UK ports business - it also operates ports in the US - and has embarked on a £205m share buyback programme to further boost returns to shareholders.

Mr Stevenson said there was a wide range of issues to address at the company, including working conditions, but the pay claim was key. So far in the dispute, AP Ports has offered union negotiators a three-year deal with a starting point of 2.9 per cent for 2004.

The union rejected this, claiming that the basis for any agreement should be a one-year agreement but at an improved rate. Not all of AB Ports will be included in the ballot. The union confirmed that its members at 10 ports will be voting, including Immingham, Swansea, Ipswich and Lowestoft. The ballot, starting today, will last until 27 June.

An important part of AB Ports' success in the UK has been winning a series of long-term contracts. It has won 80 new major contracts over the past five years with 17 being signed in 2004. It is investing £72m at Immingham, one of the UK's most important industrial ports, where the company is constructing new roll-on, roll-off and coal import facilities.