HC Deb 28 November 1951 vol 494 cc1517-9
Mr. George Isaacs

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he has any statement to make on the situation in the London Docks arising from the dispute between the lighterage employers and the Watermen, Lightermen, Tugmen and Bargemen's Union.

The Minister of Labour (Sir Walter Monckton)

Yes, Sir. I think it is desirable that the House should be informed about this dispute. A position has been reached where serious damage to the trade of the Port of London might result and essential supplies to the public might be affected.

The present dispute has its origin in a claim for increased wages made by the two unions concerned, the Watermen, Lightermen, Tugmen and Bargemen's Union and the Transport and General Worker's Union. This claim was not accepted by the employers and the lightermen's union imposed certain work to rule instructions. Officers of my Department held a meeting of the parties, as a result of which it was agreed on 18th September that a committee of investigation should be set up to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute. The lightermen's union withdrew their work to rule instructions so as to assist the committee in its task.

The committee reported on 3rd October and found against one part of the claim relating to a differential payment for skill, but recommended that negotiations he resumed on the question of bonus payments. The Report was accepted by the employers and the Transport and General Workers' Union, but rejected by the lightermen's union, and on 11th October the instructions to work to rule were again imposed by them.

Several further meetings were held with officers of my Department and although a number of proposals were considered it was not found possible to agree a mutually acceptable basis upon which normal work could be resumed and a final settlement reached. After the re-imposition of the work to rule certain workpeople were reported to the Dock Labour Board under the scheme and suspended. In the first case heard on 22nd November by the Tribunal appointed under the scheme the appeal by the Union against the suspension was rejected.

The Union has now instructed its members to ban all overtime as from Monday last and I feel I must make it clear to the House that this instruction raises issues of considerable importance to the Dock Labour Scheme. Since Monday 413 men have been reported to the Dock Labour Board for alleged breaches of the Scheme. In these circumstances I invited representatives of the employers to see me yesterday and this morning I have seen representatives of the lightermen's union. I am also in touch with the Transport and General Workers' Union, who in addition to their interest in the lighterage section, represent the majority of the dock workers in the Port.

I am now considering the position in the light of these discussions and I should like to be excused from making any further statement at present.

Mr. Isaacs

I am painfully aware of the reason for the last few words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not want to press him unduly but I would ask him if he is alive—as I feel sure he is—[Laughter]—I put that the wrong way round, that is the worst of being a printer—to the need and the importance of securing a settlement through the established machinery within the industry, and will he continue his efforts with that in mind?

Sir W. Monckton

Yes, Sir, I gladly give the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman seeks. Not only am I alive, but I am alive to that problem and that aspect of it.