HC Deb 16 April 1947 vol 436 cc187-90
Mr. Rankin

(by Private Notice asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that as a result of the dockers' dispute at Glasgow 70 ships, many of which carry cargoes of food; are immobilised; what steps are being taken to meet the dockers' grievances, particularly on the redundancy issue, and the question of discrimination against the Clyde; and what action he is taking to bring the dispute to an end.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

I am aware of the present situation in the Port of Glasgow, which arises from the necessity to reduce the dock labour force. It is a matter for regret that such a reduction of the labour force should have become necessary. A fact-finding committee, containing representatives of both sides of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry, examined the position at various ports, including Glasgow, and it was on the basis of this committee's report that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport reached his decision. The stoppage took place as soon as this decision was announced. There is no question of discrimination against Glasgow; in fact, reductions of registers have already taken place elsewhere on the basis of this committee's report.

My right hon. Friend and I have been anxious throughout to agree, with the trade union, the action to be taken on the report, but the negotiations, which extended over several months, were, unfortunately, not successful. My officers have been in constant touch with both sides, and I made it clear to the union that while the conclusion of the fact-finding Committee must be accepted as the basis of discussion I would make every endeavour to facilitate consideration as to the method of giving effect to the necessary reductions. After consultation with my right hon. Friend, I have also informed the union that while the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order does not bind the Crown, they can assume that the Ministry of Transport would act as if they were bound by it. This means that if the union wish to claim the protection of that Order to secure arbitration in regard to questions as to the reinstatement of any of the men dismissed, no obstacle will be raised, although, of course, there would need to be prior agreement to accept the award.

The trade union side of the National Joint Council are meeting this afternoon to consider the position, and I have requested that they should later meet officers of my Department so that the whole matter may be fully discussed. I sincerely hope that the dockers of Glasgow will realise that if they will return to work, in order to enable discussions to proceed in a constitutional way, their position will in no way be prejudiced. I am aware of the serious inconvenience and loss occasioned by the present stoppage, and the Government have felt it necessary to take appropriate steps to safeguard essential food supplies.

Mr. Rankin

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his answer, I would like him to expand one or two points that arise from it. First, is there any foundation for the rumour that there is unfair discrimination in the selection of men for dismissal? Second, could he assure us that a return to work will not prejudice the re-employment of any man whom the inquiry shows to have been dismissed unfairly? Third, could he say who are the parties taking part in the meeting today?

Mr. Isaacs

I am glad to answer those questions because I think they are helpful. As to prejudice, in choosing men for dismissal that is the point on which we are urging the union to bring cases to us for examination. If there has been any unfair discrimination in the selection of men for dismissal out of the numbers who are redundant I am sure that an independent inquiry, such as we can hold, would clear up the matter. As to return to work, I want to assure my hon. Friend that if the dockers will go back to work, and it is found that any men have been unreasonably dismissed, we shall use all the influence we have to secure their return. As to the parties who are taking part in the meeting, they are the four unions which comprise the workers' side of the Joint Industrial Council—the Scottish Dockers' Union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Municipal and General Workers' Union, and the Stevedores of London. They have all joined with representatives of the Glasgow union in the hope that we can settle this matter in such a way that it will not only 1'e a Glasgow settlement, but the basis of a settlement of the whole question.

Captain John Crowder

Can the Minister tell us how many of the men concerned are over 60? Does that come into the question?

Mr. Isaacs

Not quite. One of the points is whether men employed in the docks before 1939 should be retained, in preference to those who came in afterwards. I do not know whether age or conduct comes into it. We are anxious to investigate these points, but we cannot do so while there is a stoppage.

Mr. W. J. Brown

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's reference to negotiations having gone on for a period of several months—if I understood him aright—is he satisfied as to the adequacy and speed of the machinery for negotiations on such matters as this, or is that possibly a predisposing cause of the trouble, which may be put right?

Mr. Isaacs

I am sure that in this case it is not a question of adequacy or speed; it is the tenacity of the Scottish dockers in holding to their opinion.

Mr. Gallacher

Is not the right hon. Gentleman making a mistake in saying that the strike took place since this decision was announced, in view of the fact that fully three weeks ago a deputation from the docks was here, and got into touch with his Department to try to get this question discussed in order to prevent a strike?

Mr. Isaacs

The only discussion they wanted was with reference to the absolute withdrawal of the attitude taken up, but we pointed out that as this followed on a decision of the Joint Industrial Council, to which they were parties, we could not step in and overthrow that decision.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what steps are being taken to safeguard essential foodstuffs?

Mr. Isaacs

We are ensuring that all facilities are given to unload the necessary food supplies. We must differentiate between a strike-breaking movement and a food supply movement. It must be said, in fairness to the dockers, that they are making no attempts at all to interfere with the soldiers who are unloading food supplies.