Docks firm accepts mass dismissal liability

A PRIVATISED docks company facing mass claims for unfair dismissal unexpectedly conceded liability yesterday and could now face a compensation bill for about pounds 2.5m, writes Barrie Clement.

The 250 port workers at Sheerness, Kent, who were dismissed for refusing to accept inferior conditions of employment, were meeting last night to work out their response to a plan which could offer them an average pounds 10,000 a head. It is thought unlikely any will be reinstated.

To cheers from the scores of dockers who attended the third day of an industrial tribunal at Ashford, Kent, solicitors for management announced their change of mind. The hearing was expected to continue until 28 March.

Representatives of the company claimed they were forced to dismiss the employees because they could not meet bankers' financial targets. But John Couch, solicitor, argued that no evidence was produced to support that contention.

Full details of the compensation is due to be revealed today, although a company spokesman said they were still negotiating.

The dockworkers, who were sacked a year ago, received pounds 2.50 each for shares they bought for pounds 1 as part of an option scheme. Those who signed the new employment contracts were offered pounds 38.50 for theirs when the Mersey Docks and Harbour company subsequently bought the Kent port.

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