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1989: Dockers' 'jobs for life' scrapped
Chaos in Britain's ports is looming after the government announced it is to abolish legislation which, in effect, guarantees work for more than 9,000 dockers.

Employment Secretary Norman Fowler told MPs the National Dock Labour Scheme (NDLS) had become "a total anachronism" which stood in the way of a modern and efficient ports' industry.

Mr Fowler said an abolition bill would be presented before the House of Commons tomorrow.

Employers at the 60 British ports covered by the NDLS have long complained they are losing business to other ports in the UK and Europe because of the restrictions it imposes.

Introduced by a Labour government in 1947, the scheme was intended to end the scourge of casual labour by giving dockers the legal right to minimum work, holidays, sick pay and pensions.

A National Dock Labour Board was set up consisting of 50% union and 50% employer representatives.

It gives the unions an absolute veto over dismissal and total control over recruitment.

'Wilful sabotage'

Registered dockers laid off by any of the 150 firms bound by the scheme have to be taken on by another or be paid 25,000, meaning they virtually have a "job for life".

In the wake of Mr Fowler's announcement a ballot of the 9,400 registered dockers for industrial action is expected to be held soon but early reaction does not bode well.

Dock workers at the Port of London staged an unofficial half-day strike on Thursday and there was also unofficial action at ports in Bristol and Glasgow.

Labour has accused the government of "wilful sabotage" which will plunge the docks into strikes.

But Mr Fowler said there would be generous compensation of up to 35,000 for men laid off as a result of the scrapping of the scheme.

He had also received assurances from the port employers that there would be no return to using mass casual labour, Mr Fowler said.

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Dock workers
The scheme gives job security to dock workers


In Context
By the time Mrs Thatcher's government squared up to the dockers' unions, it had already broken the miners' and printers' unions after they took strike action.

However, many later argued that if the main dockers' union, the TGWU, had balloted for strike action sooner they may have been more successful.

By the time the dockers came out on strike in July the NDLS had already been abolished.

It meant port employers could once again use casual labour, lessening the impact of the dockers' action.

In August most dockers voted to return to work.

However, port workers in Liverpool remained on strike culminating in 500 of them being sacked.


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