Dublin city ‘closure’ threat from Marine Terminal dockers strike

DUBLIN is facing ‘shutdown’ if a planned dockers strike at one of Dublin’s three ship container depots goes ahead.

The strike by 53 Dublin dockers against the British company that runs Marine Terminal in Ringsend is over wages and working hours.

Union representatives say dockers have been told that if they don’t accept new contracts by Wednesday, they will be made redundant.

New working contracts offered by the Peel Ports Group add provision for shifts with more anti-social – weekend and late night – hours and wage cuts of about €200-a-head.

Unless the redundancy threats are lifted, the strike will start from 6am on Friday morning.

All routes to and from the terminal will be blocked by lorries and if the management shift any of their operations to container cargo terminals north of the Liffey at Dublin Port, the blockades will spread there too.

This could also hit petrol supplies from Dublin Port and lead to the complete closure of access routes to and from Dublin’s Port Tunnel.

An un-named Marine Terminal docker said last night: ‘We don’t want to do this, but we are being forced into industrial action by a company that won’t listen to us.

‘We are already in talks with the other dockers, but in any case – we will blockade all Dublin’s ship cargo depots if we have to.

‘As a result, we will shut the city down.’

A spokesman for Peel Ports Group, which owns Marine Terminal, said last night: ‘Like many companies, due to the economic downturn, we are being forced to reduce our costs and improve efficiency in the way we operate.’

The company is part of Peel Holdings, which owns airports and shipyards, including Cammell Laird – which is being used to maintain British Royal Navy warships.

Billionaire John Whittacker – who part owns the Pinewood Studios home of the James Bond and Harry Potter films – is Peel’s majority owner.

A number of portacabins have been set up at the terminal within the past week and fitted out as living quarters with heating and electricity for a team of six men flown in from Scotland.

Dockers claim they have been told by contractors working at the terminal that the men are all ex-British Army.

While they are officially employed at the depot as ‘security guards’, dockers believe they will be drafted in to do their jobs during any strike action, which follows two Labour Court hearings and numerous attempts at reconciliation.

The entrance to the Marine Terminal is just off a roundabout at South Bank Road that also leads directly to the East Link toll booths and bridge, and on to the Dublin Port Tunnel.

The route is a major access point for trucks and supply lorries, which are banned from the city centre. If the strike happens, the action will force tens of thousands of commuter cars into central Dublin.

This could potentially cause gridlock at rush hour as commuters struggle to find alternative ways to get to work in the city or access route north of it.

Access to the Port Tunnel and arteries north of Dublin along the M1 motorway could end up being severely restricted.

If the Peel Port Group move their operations during the strike to north Liffey depots on Alexandra Road – just up from the Point Depot venue – striking dockers will also block the junction at Tolka Quay Road and East Wall Road, effectively shutting down the Dublin Port Tunnel.

AA spokesman Conor Faughnan said last night: ‘The AA have no view on the rights or wrongs of any dispute but we would urge the dockers to reconsider their position.

‘It would be a bit melodramatic to suggest the dockers could shut down Dublin but any blockading action will undoubtedly cause significant disruption to traffic in the south east quadrant of the city.

‘Dublin is such a traffic and car dependent city that it is perfectly possible to cause serious disruption if you are bloody-minded about it.

‘There are so many traffic pinch-points that only a relatively small obstruction can cause major problems.’

He added: ‘The dockers’ cause would be better served by not disrupting the entire city.

‘This action is likely to be deeply unfair and the people who will feel it will be the innocent motorists of Dublin and not the people with whom the dockers are in dispute.’

The 53 dockers voted on the strike last Sunday week, and yesterday afternoon the decision to carry out the strike was agreed at Dublin’s Liberty Hall.

Siptu union representative John Walsh, who is also a docker at Marine Terminal, said last night: ‘We have already made a whole load of concessions to management.

‘We have accepted the need for redundancies and we have accepted a wage freeze.

‘But the management has taken the decision to do everything their way – or it’s the highway and we have had enough.

‘After more than 20 meetings over the past two years about working conditions at the depot and the rights of all the workers there – we don’t believe they are prepared to listen to us anymore.’

He added: ‘We intend to shut the depot down and that is going to have a knock on and very detrimental affect on not just food supplies to this country but also anybody trying to get to the Port Tunnel via the East Link.

‘That part of Dublin is just going to be shut down.’

Worryingly, talks are already under way with the union representatives of the two other Dublin ship container cargo depots – at Dublin Ferry Terminals and nearby Portroe, both north Dublin port depots.

A Peel Ports Group spokesman said last night:  ‘We really regret that we’re having to let 19 people go and are disappointed that we have been unable to reach an agreement with the union, especially given the generous redundancy packages on offer

‘We’ve been in negotiations with the MPGWU for the past two months about restructuring working practices to better meet customer needs and have offered voluntary redundancies.

‘It’s extremely regrettable that we have been forced to take this action. We were keen to ensure that we achieved this through voluntary redundancies, but the situation is urgent – we have no other option.’

The spokesman pointed out that salaries enjoyed by MTL’s port operatives are ‘far above the industry norms’ – generally around €75,000 for a crane operator.

Due to reductions in port traffic and customer demands for efficiencies and greater flexibility, the company was seeking to reduce this to €60,000 plus overtime and offered enhanced redundancy packages of €75,000 for volunteers.

The spokesman added: ‘That’s four times the statutory redundancy terms, but the union has demanded almost double that.

‘The MPGWU (Marine Port & General Workers Union/SIPTU) seems to have taken little account of the fact that the Irish economy in general and the ports industry in particular is facing a hugely challenging time.

“The union has threatened strike action but we’re committed to reducing the impact of any industrial action on our customers to ensure the port works smoothly and efficiently.”

Marine Terminal handles more than 120,000 containers-a-year.

At weekends, from Friday to Monday morning – about 1500 containers will normally go through that depot now.
These will be imports from other countries, and as well as food and hospital supplies, they also include anything from clothes to components.

Over the same period, the depot handles about 800 containers filled with exports from Ireland.

Any disruption to their delivery will be a blow to any business already finding it hard enough to trade during the current economic downturn.

The last time the dockers went out on strike was more than eight years ago. Then, as now, it followed the purchase of the terminal by another company.

It was bought from the Imari Group by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MD&HC) in July 2000.

After new working conditions were proposed, and then rejected – the dockers went out on strike on September 15.

The three-month dispute cost MD&HC millions and badly hit the company’s share price but ended after 34 dockers voted to accept a redundancy package of more than £30,000 each.

Tellingly, the company’s chief executive Peter Jones said at the time: ‘Ireland is a different labour relations environment from the UK and it isn’t easy to shed people’