14 Jun 2008

Shell shocked

Unite the union which still which boasts 2 million voices reports that talks have broken down between Shell tanker drivers and Haver and Suckling. "Shell's failure to intervene in this dispute means that Shell's drivers have no alternative other than to go ahead with strike action, beginning on Friday June 13th, 2008. This dispute could have been resolved if Shell had advanced a fraction of the billions of pounds in profit they make every month. One of the world's richest companies is prepared to play Pontius Pilate and see the British public inconvenienced rather than settle this dispute for a sum smaller than the chairman's pay increase last year."

Unite says that Shell tanker drivers today earn a basic wage of just under £32,000 per year for a 48-hour working week. In 1992, a typical tanker driver directly employed by Shell earned approximately £32,000 per year for a 37-hour week. Well what have the unions been doing to allow this to happen?

Industrial action has now begun which has sparked panic buying. The companies say unions rejected a pay offer which would have taken the drivers' average salary to £41,500 by January 2009. But the Unite union says the offer would have increased salaries from just under £32,000 to £36,000.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged both sides of the dispute to resume negotiations, adding that contingency plans were in place to minimise the effects of the walkout. This has gained criticism particularly from the Left who see Brown as attacking the very right of trade unionists to strike:

LRC stated in a press release that the 'Labour movement unites against Government attack on right to strike'
"In a further erosion of our civil liberties, the Government has briefed the press that it is threatening to invoke emergency powers, contained within the Civil Contingencies Act, in the oil tanker drivers' dispute to draft in soldiers to drive the tankers. The drivers are members of UNITE. There is widespread concern within Parliament about these proposals as MPs have tabled EDM 1761 (full text at end) on this issue. John McDonnell MP, LRC Chair, said
"Just after the vote on 42 days detention you thought the assault on people's civil liberties couldn't get worse. When the Government introduced the Civil Contingencies Act many of us warned that it would be used against trade unionists and this latest threat from Downing Street confirms our concerns that emergency powers could be used to undermine trade union rights.
Just at a time when there are attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement to the tanker drivers' dispute this inflammatory threat will exacerbate the situation and undermine the potential for resolving the dispute." Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said: "The FBU is extremely concerned about the potential of the Civil Contingencies Act to be used to organise strike-breaking. There is no evidence that the UK fire service has ever failed to respond adequately to the seriousness of terrorist events. We believe that some employers, with the encouragement of the Government, are using this legislation to organise strike-breaking activities that can only undermine good industrial relations. We would urge the Government to avoid inflammatory actions against trade unions in the event of industrial action".

EDM 1761 Tanker Drivers' Dispute
That this House regrets that Government sources this week have threatened the use of emergency powers against striking tanker drivers, who are members of Unite, including through the drafting-in of soldiers to drive tankers for oil companies; and believes this inflammatory threat sets back the process of achieving a negotiated settlement in this dispute.
John McDonnell Jeremy Corbyn Peter Bottomley Kelvin Hopkins Linda Riordan

Its hardly that the emergency powers are being considered to strike break and not as an immediate measure but are being considered to avert a civil crisis should one arise. Shell cannot legitimately think that the armed forces can continue tto drive their tankers for ever. We have already seen panic buying just one day in to the action and today there was a blockade on the M6 which caused tailbacks and delays and could have resulted in an emergency.

I believe in every workers right to stike but I also believe in being fully aware of the facts. And far be it for me to believe the employers but they are saying that a pay offer which would have brought the average wage to £41,000 has been rejected. UNITE say the increase would bring the increase to £36, 000. I know it is a dangerous job and long hours, often unsociable. But so is working in the public sector and we get offered 2.45% with many of us on much less than £32, 000 in the first place for a 37 hour working week with many of us working outside those hours unpaid.

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