Port workers claim unfair dismissal

PORT bosses have been accused of unfairly dismissing Ipswich dock workers following the collapse of a major client.

Will Clarke

PORT bosses have been accused of unfairly dismissing Ipswich dock workers following the collapse of a major client.

Ten former employees of Associated British Ports (ABPorts) at Ipswich port are claiming unfair dismissal. Their case was heard at a tribunal held in Bury St Edmunds yesterday.

Two of the group - Tony Combstock and Norman Underwood - are also claiming the company discriminated against their disabilities. The other claimants are Chris Smy, Danny Dockerill, Michael Brooks, Robert Hartley, Roy Garwood, Lewis Coleman, Keith Clifford and Dave Micklesen who claim the firm dismissed them unfairly.

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They are being backed by their union Unite, which is claiming it was not fully consulted by ABPorts bosses.

Yesterday, the tribunal heard from port bosses Michael Sellers and Alistair MacFarlane who traced the situation back to June 2007 when Ipswich port's major client Ferryways collapsed.

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The first port bosses knew something had gone wrong with the Dutch-owned firm was when a laden boat was sent back to Europe within sight of the Suffolk coast.

It transpired the company had gone into liquidation and was yet to appoint an administrator, which Mr Sellers admitted he knew had serious implications for Ipswich.

The tribunal was told that up to 60% of employees at Ipswich port worked directly with the Ferryways roll-on roll-off freight business.

By July 5, a series of six meetings between workers and Unite representatives were convened to discuss the best way to find redundancies among the entire workforce at the port.

In his statement, read to the tribunal, Mr Sellers denied that the scoring process devised to assess the staff at the port was not “too subjective” but was fair and reasonable “in the circumstances”.

“I asked them (Unite) to put forward more objective criteria but they didn't put anything forward.”

Mr MacFarlane said the roll-on roll-off employees engaged with Ferryways business were among the “most skilled and flexible” workers at the port.

Both bosses agreed they needed flexible and skilled workers but he denied that “preliminary assessment” to the main scoring process amounted to managers “skewing” results against certain employees.

Speaking after today's hearing, Victor Brankiewicz regional organiser for the Unite union, which is expected to bring witnesses next week, said: “We consider firstly they (ABPorts) did not consult the union in a proper and full manner…which they are bound to do under employment legislation.

“From that the claims for unfair redundancy and those claims for disability discrimination stem.”

The hearing continues.

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