In Your Face

In Your Face
Thought provoking opinions on topical issues.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Dockers, Dinosaurs and Disputes

My father was a captain in the Merchant Navy. He told me story about working practices in the docks in the 1950’s, which I will relate to you.

Dockyard practices were rigidly applied, and were based on agreements between the powerful dockers’ unions and management of the docks. Should you wish to unload your cargo on a Saturday the rules were particularly inflexible.

Primarily the dockers were only on duty for 3 hours on Saturday, for which they naturally received double time. Time and motion studies had concluded that it took 30 minutes for the average docker to walk to the ship, and a further 30 minutes to walk back. This of course counted as part of the working day, and so only 2 hours were left for the docker to actually “work”.

Time and motion had also dictated that it took 45 minutes to open the cargo holds, and another 45 minutes to close them. This left some 30 minutes in which the cargo could be unloaded.

However, no doubt exhausted by the gruelling schedule, our hardworking dockers needed a break. Therefore two tea breaks, of 15 minutes each, were built into the day. The result, dockers were paid double time not to come to work.

Needless to say working practices like that ensured the destruction of the once thriving dockyards in the UK (something that Hitler had failed to achieve); as container ships moved to unload their cargoes on mainland Europe.

The power of the union dinosaurs was effectively castrated by the Thatcher governments of the 1980’s. However, their rotting corpses still occasionally twitch. Currently we are seeing such a spasm in the dispute over swipe cards between BA and three unions.

These three unions, who are also engaging in a public spat amongst themselves as to who is “head dinosaur”, brought Heathrow to a standstill last week. They are threatening to do so again.

This is sheer folly, BA like other airlines is in a parlous financial situation. Further days of lost revenue will more than likely push it to the edge of bankruptcy. The people whom the unions claim they represent, ie the members, will find themselves out of a job much like the dockers. All of this allegedly over a change in working practices.

The dockers once thought, as they gazed out to sea at the long line of ships queuing to unload their cargoes, that they had a job for life. How wrong they were. I suggest the staff of BA take heed from this, they could ask a docker (if they could find one) what their advice would be.

By the way, my father managed to circumnavigate the intransigent dinosaur; and managed to get his ship unloaded on a Saturday. How? Simple, he opened the cargo holds whilst still at sea.

Maybe the management of BA could come up with a similarly imaginative method for side-stepping the rotting corpses of union intransigence?

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