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Union and shipping company clash over Covid-19 redundancies and overtime overhaul

Shipping giant DFDS and union Unite have clashed over claims it is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to make redundancies and make “brutal attacks” on workers’ pay.

Regional officer Mike Wilkinson launched the broadside, suggesting the dispute could escalate, with 86 jobs at risk and an overhaul of overtime terms and conditions.

But the accusations have been completely refuted, with the scale of the impact outlined.

DFDS Seaways announced last month that 86 jobs were at risk, as part of cuts that will see 650 roles go across the company’s European operations.

A total of 62 positions are in the ferries and terminals business, with 24 in logistics. Unite represents around 300 members of the workforce.

Mr Wilkinson said: “DFDS Seaways is using Covid-19 as an excuse to cut jobs and make brutal attacks on its Immingham workforce’s terms and conditions.

“While many companies have rewarded their staff for working through the lockdown, DFDS at Immingham has chosen instead to punish its employees with redundancies and pay cuts. We consider this action by the company to be grossly unfair and opportunism of the worst kind.

“DFDS’ work volume at Immingham has increased steadily since operations were disrupted in April so there is no reason to enact such severe and draconian measures. Unite will not sit by and let this opportunistic attack by DFDS on our members’ jobs and terms and conditions take place.

“Our members supported the company during lockdown and are incredibly angry at the way they are now being treated and unless DFDS rethinks its plans and engages constructively with Unite this dispute will only escalate further.”

It is understood a total of 14 members are being made redundant, on a voluntary basis.

In a statement, Andrew Byrne, DFDS Seaways’ managing director, said: “DFDS, as with many other supply chain and logistics companies, has been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We saw volumes fall by 30 per cent, and as a high fixed cost business our costs fell by a lot less, creating a critical financial situation.

“The need for DFDS to make changes to its cost base is to ensure we survive this difficult period and protect the business and the majority of our colleagues.”

He told how while volumes have increased “from a desperately low base, they are still a long way behind where they need to be to make us a viable proposition”.

A £200 million hit has been forecast by the business, with 12 of 50 freight vessels laid up at the pandemic peak.

“We are making absolutely every effort to work to find agreement on a way forward to protect our business and protect as many roles as possible in these difficult circumstances,” Mr Byrne continued.

He confirmed a time and a half to single time overtime payment had been proposed, adding that DFDS has offered to reinstate it should a move to a framework overtime contract that removed guarantees and was based on volume levels being achieved, be accepted.

“We are doing everything possible to change fixed costs to variable costs so hopefully when we move beyond this period and grow, the current benefits are restored, and the majority of our employees understand this,” Mr Byrne said. “We are asking Unite to work with us on achieving this rather than continuing to refuse to engage in solutions, which could ultimately mean all the initial proposals are imposed as nothing has been tabled or agreed from Unite.

“DFDS is a reputable company, who topped up all salaries to 100 per cent during furlough, and have made these difficult decisions to protect the employment of the majority of staff. “For Unite to state that they are prepared to escalate the situation further appears irresponsible and would potentially put the employment of their members at risk unnecessarily.”
Source: Business Live

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