Prior to the event Unite general secretary Len McCluskey had threatened to expose anti-union practices by London Gateway owners DP World unless it recognises the union.
The Dubai-based company owns the new prestige deep-sea container port in the Thames Estuary and has so far refused to recognise Unite. Unite dockworkers fear a race to the bottom in terms of employment conditions which could threaten the future viability of the container ports at Felixstowe and Southampton, as well as at Thamesport.
In his letter to DP World’s CEO, Mohammed Sharaf, Len McCluskey said: “As a former dockworker I will not countenance the establishment of a major non-union port in Britain.
“The management of the London Gateway project are refusing to enter into meaningful negotiations with my union and have made it clear that they will not sign a collective agreement covering workers employed at the site.
“If this blatant anti-union behaviour continues, then I will be left with no option, other than to authorise the start of a Unite campaign to expose the anti-union practices of your company, to all interested parties including shareholders and customers.
“It is clear that the anti-union behaviour of London Gateway management and DPW is in breach of core international labour standards.”
Len McCluskey warned that many of the port’s potential clients will be signatories to codes of practice that commit their businesses to abide by agreed labour standards.
This includes Marks and Spencer – a key signatory to the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) base code that commits member organisations to upholding fair labour standards – which is currently considering whether or not to commit to London Gateway and become the first big brand client.
Unite regional officer Jane Jeffery said: “We will ratchet up the campaign in the coming weeks until the management grants union recognition and treats our members with the respect accorded to millions of other workers in the UK.
“We are demanding the company enters meaningful talks regarding a collective agreement and access.”
Speaking after the event Andy Green said: “DP World are refusing basic Trade Union Rights to Dockers at their new Gateway Port, for all their bluster about giving workers the choice, they refuse to let Unite access to these workers”.
“We will not sit back and let DP World drive down pay and conditions in our industry, creating a race to bottom. We will campaign and get these Dockers their basic human right to be represented by Unite.”
London Gateway is due to open in the autumn and is already recruiting for the 2,500-strong workforce, the majority of which will be dockers.