UNITE, the transport workers’ union, yesterday said it was calling a 12-hour strike at the Milford Haven oil terminal next Tuesday, after a 48-hour strike due to begin today was banned by a High Court injunction.
The court ruled in favour of Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) against 50 pilots and launch crew who planned to strike today and tomorrow and have a further day of ‘work to rule’ action.
The workers voted to strike in defence of their pension rights.
Unite responded to the injunction by announcing that their members at the giant port in south Wales would strike instead next Tuesday, February 23.
‘We gave served notice yesterday for action to take place next Tuesday. And after that the pilots will be taking other action, which will include an overtime ban and a work to rule,’ said a Unite spokesman.
A work to rule would stop the pilots from working on larger ships, including most oil and liquefied natural gas tankers.
Judge Sweeney ruled that notices of industrial action issued by Unite for this week were not in full compliance with the anti-union laws.
The ‘balance of convenience’ favoured the employers, said the judge.
But Unite condemned the judgement as an attack on democratic rights, after Unite members voted in favour of a strike.
‘It is hugely frustrating going through the correct legal procedures to call this action then to have the courts intervene to block it,’ responded Brendan Gold, Unite’s national secretary for docks and waterways.
‘The fundamental issue here is the High Court intervening yet again, as they did in the BA cabin crew dispute, to undermine our members’ democratic decision to take industrial action.
‘The courts are now actively intervening in industrial relations disputes.’
Angry Unite members at Milford Haven want their final salary pension scheme left intact.
The port authority wants to scrap the scheme and replace it with a much-reduced career average earnings scheme, at the same time as raising the retirement from 60 to 65.
Unite regional officer, Allan Card, said the workers had voted ‘very strongly’ in favour of strike action in defence of their pensions.
He insisted that notification for the strike had been perfectly lawful.
‘We’ve actually offered the port authority that we would suspend action for up to 28 days to enable further discussions hopefully so that we can resolve this matter,” he said.
‘Milford Haven is Britain’s sixth biggest port, handling 25 per cent of the UK’s petrol and diesel.
There are two oil refineries, two LNG terminals and the UK’s largest petroleum tank farm at Milford Haven.
The staff at the centre of the dispute, the pilots, are responsible for bringing large commercial ships in and out of Milford Haven, and are highly-skilled and experienced at navigating the estuary.
Without them and the launch crews, who help them get on and off the ships, the port cannot offer a pilotage service to its customers.
The port authority said it was now considering how to respond to the new strike plan for next Tuesday.