State compensation scheme misused to 'casualise' docks

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PORT employers have 'systematically abused' a state-funded scheme to make more than 7,000 dockers redundant, according to research published today. More than pounds 130m of taxpayers' money has been poured into severence pay for 'registered' port workers, many of whom were taken back by the same companies on reduced terms and conditions.

The government severance arrangement was announced in 1989 when ministers repealed the National Dock Labour Scheme, which provided employment protection for registered dockers.

Despite ministerial assurances, many of the ex-registered dockers now work on a casual basis, and such forms of employment are now widespread throughout the industry, Cardiff Business School says in its report The Price Of Deregulating Britain's Ports.

The research - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council - found that 7,200 of the former 9,220 registered dockers had been made redundant under the Dock Labour Compensation Scheme.

A survey of 800 former registered employees found that more than 80 per cent of them felt they had no choice but to accept severance.

This level of redundancy which was 'way in excess' of government estimates, cost the taxpayer pounds 132m and the port employers around pounds 100m, according to the report.

The total cost to the Government of abolishing the dock scheme, however, is estimated to be much higher as a result of unemployment and other benefits paid to redundant dockers.

Researchers say that there is very little the Transport and General Workers' Union can do to fight the 'casualisation' of the industry. The union has been 'de-recognised' in many ports, and activists were the first to be selected for redundancy.

The union's biennial delegate conference starting in Bournemouth will attack the practice of sacking democratically elected representatives.

'The Price of Deregulating Britain's Ports: The socio-economic costs of the Dock Labour Compensation Scheme', published by the Cardiff Business School, University of Wales, Aberconway Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF1 3EU.