Workers at a council-owned shipping company have voted to take industrial action over contract changes. The union Unison said MMD Shipping in Portsmouth had decided to impose pay cuts leaving the majority of staff more than £4,000 a year worse off.
Portsmouth City Council said it needed to make the company “more sustainable and viable”. The firm, which imports about 70% of all bananas eaten in the UK, was bought by the council for £2.1m in 2008.
In May, the authority revealed it had made a £1.6m overall profit in the years it had owned the firm, taking account of more than £16m it had invested. The council said its support had helped to keep the company afloat and ensured the viability of the Portsmouth International Port, which it also owns. Unison said a ballot of its members showed 88% of those who voted supported industrial action over cuts to hourly pay, overtime and sick pay.
The union said the contracts included “three-hour flexible starts”, allowing staff to be called to begin work at any time during a three-hour window. Regional organiser Andy Straker said: “The new flexible shift patterns proposed will play havoc with employees’ family life, and give any staff with young children very real childcare headaches.” Portsmouth Port manager Martin Putman said: “In order to meet the challenges of a changing business, we need to better match the contractual agreements of our staff with the requirements of our customers.
“This will enable MMD to become more sustainable and viable, thus providing long-term employment and safeguarding jobs.” He said he would continue to hold talks with Unison to try to avert industrial action.