Dock Workers (Redundancy Pay)

– in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 27th July 1989.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:12 pm, 27th July 1989

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the revelation of the improper use of public funds for the payment of redundancies in the dock dispute. It has just come to light that a serious abuse involving the misappropriation of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being committed under the compensation arrangements following the ending of the national dock labour scheme. Several examples have been brought to my attention which show either that the Secretary of State for Employment is presiding over the illegal disbursement of large sums of public money or that he has drawn up the terms of the compensation scheme so loosely as to be guilty of gross negligence.

This is a specific matter because paragraph 3 of the schedule to the Dock Work (Compensation Payment Scheme) Regulations 1989 states explicitly that an employee is dismissed by reason of redundancy", and therefore entitled to compensation, only if either his employer becomes insolvent or moves his business to a new location or decides that he needs fewer employees.

I have several examples showing that millions of pounds of Government money has been paid when none of those conditions applies. One port employer, English China Clay, made 72 registered dock workers redundant in the ports of Par and Fowey in Cornwall, while guaranteeing jobs back to all those who wanted them under new agreements to do the same work. The taxpayer had to pay 50 per cent. of the cost of those so-called redundancies, amounting to £1·25 million.

In another case, John Sutcliffe (Stevedores) Ltd., which used to supply 45 registered dock workers on a weekly basis to a company called DFDS, went into liquidation and paid severance payments to all the dockers. However, DFDS then took back 21 of the old Sutcliffe dock workers as its own employees, although refusing to recognise the Transport and General Workers Union. The taxpayer had to pay 100 per cent. of the cost of that manoeuvre, amounting to about £1·5 million.

In addition, the manager of Sutcliffe Stevedores has set up his own dock-work business and is employing 40 ex-registered dock workers although they are claiming and entitled to severance pay. Similarly, the manager of Lindsey Dock Services, whose company was liquidated, has now set up in business and has taken back eight dock workers although they are in receipt of severance payments.

This is an important matter because large sums of taxpayers' money are being used, not to fund genuine redundancies, but to finance a continuation of the same work in another guise, designed to achieve the de-recognition of the union. The compensation arrangements are being perverted by the employers.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the revelation of improper use of public funds for the payment of redundancies in the docks dispute. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under Standing Order No. 20 I have to consider the requirements of the Order and to announce my decision without giving reasons. I have listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He knows that my duty in considering his application is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business set down for seven o'clock this evening. I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Order and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.