Corridors of power row over Dock Bill
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from our political correspondent EMPLOYMENT Secretary Mr Michael Foot averted what might have been a major defeat for the Government when he unveiled his promised concessions to workers who feared for their jobs under the Dock Work Regulation Bill.
Mr Foot faced a revolt from two MPs on the 31-member committee considering the Bill that might have given the combined Opposition parties a one vote majority against the Bill when the vote came.
But this week one of the rebel MPs, Mr James Johnson, a Transport and General Workers' Union-sponsored Member, told CM "The Minister has met in full the difficulties that might have faced my members working in cold stores and warehouses.
"We feel that what the Minister proposes is adequate to enable our members to protect their interests," he said.
The key amendment to the Bill says that if a union has had collective bargaining arrangements going back to the beginning of the present scheme in 1967, it will have the power to veto the procedures to classify an activity as dock work.
This will apply as long as the work carried out is of the same type even though the employer may have changed his methods of cargo handling over the years.
This arrangement will include drivers working in and from depots within the dock corridor—the five-mile wide area surrounding all major rivers and the coastline.
It was this corridor that threatened the Bill earlier this week. Tory Members of the Bill committee compelled Mr Foot to reveal maps that showed the area that would be affected by the corridor.
It was this revelation that shocked Mr Johnson and Mr Ted Leadbitter into threatening to abstain when the vote came. The corridor covered most of Cornwall, Newark, Doncaster and the outskirts of Leeds as well as all major ports and Peterborough, Norwich, Selby, Ramsey, Chester and Taunton.
Both the MPs were appalled at the extent. of the corridor and the provision which allowed Mr Foot to extend the registered dock work even farther inland if he wanted to. They said that they were dissatisfied with the whole idea of the corridor.
But the Bill still threatens non-union drivers using the docks and areas where dock work is being done.
This week the Continental Freight Drivers' club joined in the mass of protest against the Bill. Its president, Mr Francois de Saulieu, said : "It is absolutely inconceivable that dockers take over the lorries of European drivers coming to England—even for a short journey.
But the amendment to the Bill was welcomed by the Freight Transport Association. Its spokesman said : "It's a step in the right direction— just the sort of amendment we'd like to see.
"It won't overcome many of the objections to the Bill, but it should ease the industrial relations problems."
The Road Haulage Association also welcomed the amendment : "Our policy is to destroy the Bill so any relaxation is welcome," said a spokesman, "it does imply that a company with long established agreements can operate outside the docks scheme.".