Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 420)



  400. Would you say that ports by virtue of new technology have become more dangerous places to work than they were previously?
  (Mr Carr) I would say personally that they have become more dangerous. I would not have thought new technology has been a factor. It has been the casualisation.


  401. Because you have untrained people working there?
  (Mr Carr) Yes, without a doubt.

Mr Bennett

  402. You were just about to give us the amount of claims you as an union were putting in for accidents. Can you give us those figures?
  (Mr Carr) We have a docks and waterways section and we have given our membership figure as 9,786 people as of today. Over the period from the 01/01/99 to 20/03/01 our members have submitted 180 injury at work claims to the courts.

  403. How many fatalities were there over that period? Do you know?
  (Mr Carr) We do not list fatalities.


  404. You do not divide those so you could not tell us how many approximately were very serious and how many were fairly small?
  (Mr Carr) We could provide that.

  405. In rough proportions, Mr Carr, if you would.
  (Mr Carr) We certainly could provide it. We do not have it to hand. Can I say, though, in terms of deaths within the industry that they are classified as the particular area they are in, and I think I am right in saying that in the 12 months leading up to December last year there were 16 deaths within the port industry, but that would include any member of the public who died in a dock environment. This is the difficulty we have in getting information.

Mr Bennett

  406. Are they dangerous places then?
  (Mr Carr) Very dangerous places, yes, we would say so.

  407. Why are they dangerous?
  (Mr Carr) The machinery that you would use is dangerous in itself, the moving components that are used, the physical need for people to transfer from ship to shore. Finally, the overriding aspect of it is the casualisation and the lack of safety training amongst the workforce because, with the best will in the world, the port authorities have no control over who comes onto their dock estate when they contract out a certain area of work. It is that casualisation aspect which we believe has been the overriding factor in the rise in incidence of accidents in the port industry.

  408. Can you come up with examples of ports which are organised in a way that are safer than others or are they all bad?
  (Mr Carr) Liverpool, for instance, has only had two deaths in the last two years. It is a very, very well-run port. One of them in particular I can say was almost a freak accident so it is very hard to pinpoint it in that way. Death is a tragic thing, of course, but deaths happen in different circumstances and while you can attribute a death in a certain area to a certain cause or certain reason, it does not always come out in the statistics in that way. I would say the well-managed ports are by far the safer.
  (Mr Landles) You have to say it is all relative to the number of dock workers employed. In the Port of Felixstowe we have a very high standard of health and safety but we still have accidents and when you are handling 2.8 million containers a year and employing 2,000 dock workers statistically you are going to get more accidents than a port employing 17 people or on a casual basis ten people on a ship on a certain day.

  409. But there are industries where they have very large numbers of employees and they have very high safety records, so it is possible to organise these things safely. When you are talking about this problem of accidents is it because some of the people working in the ports have not been given the training?
  (Mr Carr) Yes.

  410. So even at Felixstowe training is not good?
  (Mr Landles) I would disagree with you. We are always seeking to improve training. In fact, it is under review again. Nobody joins the Port of Felixstowe as a dock worker. Everybody has to come in and have a basic two week training school then three months onto the quayside under probation by other workers. That was only a basic part of the training. What we had in the industry is people coming from anywhere for a day's work in the smaller ports. The bigger ports which are trade union organised (and there are 2,000 T&GWU dock work members, there are very few non-members) are well-organised because we have had access and we have had participation with the employer.

  411. So you are saying that the British Port Industry Training Board does a good job as far as the big ports are concerned?
  (Mr Landles) All I can say is we are not party in the Port of Felixstowe to the British Training Board, we do all training ourselves. Whoever comes to the Port of Felixstowe, and I can only speak for them, has to go through a complete training course because we are a specialised port in the sense of containerisation and ro-ro.
  (Mr Carr) Can I add that the Training Board—and I think they are coming in after us—is a new concept. It is not something that has been with us for any length of time unfortunately.

  412. So at the moment you cannot say there are doing a good job?
  (Mr Carr) I am sure they are but we cannot say they are doing a good job

  413. This question of over-capacity, you are saying there really are too many ports and you want to get rid of the small ones. That is presumably because you have not got many members in the small ones?
  (Mr Carr) That would be a guess! Very controversially—I think we call it decommissioning in our paper—we do support decommissioning in this way, but for reasons other than it would affect less of our members, I can assure you. By the way, we do believe when we are talking about the smaller ports that there is a diversification available in the leisure/trade industry. Everybody is looking for premium land in terms of those realms and we believe that the ports would survive in that way. However, we believe that the competition within the industry, which is taking the cargoes away from the major ports, in terms of stevedore and cargo handling and port services, is taking away the very fact we were just talking about and that was the control. My colleague, Mr Landles, indicated that the major ports have the health and safety element within them and are well-organised in that way. Also the economics of bringing the cargoes to the port would develop those ports and would enable them to prosper and go forward in the progressive manner that we have said.
  (Mr Landles) It is a commercial situation as well. The realities and the facts of life are that ships are getting bigger. The smaller ports have not got the depth of water. The realisation is now that containerisation is the forerunner in cargo handling. The ships that use ports now have one stop in Europe and then they are around the world. They rotate. 15 or 20 years ago they used to have back and forwards Liverpool to America, now they do not, they have one stop, Southampton, Felixstowe, Rotterdam, and away. Container ships now are sixth generation and when you have something like a 60,000 tonne ship you have to have 48 feet of drafted water. It is the physical constraints of the ports and of ship owners only wanting to stop at one port in Britain, if they have to do that (and many of them do not) that prevents it.

  414. You do not think there is scope for developing total shipping for agri goods and thing like that to take cargo off the roads?
  (Mr Landles) I think it would be very difficult in England. I remember when a ship called from Newcastle to London. The major problem is that ship owners, who are a hell of a lobby, whether in England or in Europe, have had a big influence on the development of ports including the Port of Felixstowe over the years and they have decided which ports they are going to use because of the size of the ships and because of the geographic constraints.

Mrs Gorman

  415. I would be interested to know how much of this rather gloomy picture which you seem to be painting, perhaps almost talking your industry down, has got to do with the hangover of attitudes from the Dock Labour Board days, which we all agree are better seen gone, or whether it has got to do with the geographical location of your port. Is it not true that most of our trade that used to come in and out across the Atlantic is now stuff going in and out of Europe which perhaps accounts for the Felixstowe prosperity, or am I wrong?
  (Mr Carr) We know that the tonnage, the throughput to the ports has increased dramatically since 1989, but our criticisms of the abolition of the scheme go a lot further than a simplistic point of view as to whether it has done our members in. We are really not talking about that. The scheme itself provided employment, of course it provided employment in terms of minimum standards, and jobs for the people who work down there, but the abolition of the scheme is what it brought about in terms of the casualisation of the industry and we believe that that in itself has damaged the industry totally in terms of where it has come from.
  (Mr Sealey) Before the scheme was abolished it was the National Association of Port Employers who were saying that they did not foresee a return to casualisation within the ports, and that was the one fear amongst their members more than anything—that it would go back to being casual labour and the memory for them of the pits where people were picked up on a morning or a afternoon to go and do a job. We have seen a return to that. We have had stability of employment where there has been high capital investment, the ships are coming in, we have members who are very well paid, in secure employment, but it is on the margins where we have got the problem with casualisation and people coming in. They are not skilled, they are being seriously injured and in some cases killed, and we see this as a direct result of the abolition of the scheme and the controls that at least the scheme did have over who came into the industry and the levels of training.

  416. My constituency borders on Tilbury so I know a little bit about this and since the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme that port has gone from strength to strength. It is expanding all the time and it is doing remarkably well. I talk to both constituents who work down there and the management structure. To me it seems that the problems you depict and the gloomy impression you are giving is due more to the shift not just in the way cargoes are transported but also the location of these ports, and some ports are just in the wrong place now. You do not think there is any element of that involved in it, that your port happens, sadly, to be located in a part of the country where it is of less attraction to people bringing stuff into the country? I am here to learn.
  (Mr Carr) There has been no shift in the location.

  Chairman: I do not want to spend too long on this. You did tell us that the throughput in Liverpool was going up. I think that is the answer to Mrs Gorman.

  Mrs Gorman: There is a big contrast between the impression I am getting from Mr Landles and his report—


  417. Felixstowe is very efficient; you are handling very large numbers.
  (Mr Landles) I know about Tilbury as well, Chairman. I represent workers at Tilbury because I am the executive member for the South East. It is the terms and conditions that those workers have worked under since 1989 which has to be the question. It is only quite recently that the Transport and General Workers' Union has been recognised for the purpose of discussing with the employer safety and training. Prior to that there was no discussion and many concerns were raised by dock workers in the Port of Tilbury and many dock workers were sacked between 1989 and 1999 because they raised questions of health and safety. That is a fact.


  418. I want to ask you one thing, Mr Carr. What have you said to the Government about the proposed Directive on Port Services?
  (Mr Carr) We are very, very much against it. Mr Landles will come in on this. I would simply say that we view this as a regressive step.

  419. I understand what your attitude is; what have you done about that?
  (Mr Landles) We have had meetings with the ITUC, the International Transport Federation—

  420. Specifically with Government?
  (Mr Landles) As late as 1 o'clock today we met the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to raise our concerns.

  Chairman: That is quite a good way of getting into the Government. Thank you very much indeed. I think it has been very helpful and I am very grateful to you all. Thank you.

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