UNISON retains union recognition at Portico Shipping

Photo: UNISON Portico representatives past and present following a training event in London for union steward’s across UK ports, with Regional Organiser James Smith

UNISON successfully responded to a surprise de-recognition ballot at Portico Shipping, an organisation with close associations with Portsmouth City Council. UNISON won the ballot producing a resounding endorsement of UNISON’s continued representation of the interests of Operatives at the city’s port.

The ballot followed calls from a small section of the workforce for a new consultation structure, a move which risked losing union representation at the site altogether. The breakaway group had previously tried to get another union recognised at the site and UNISON members feared that bargaining arrangements may return to the conditions experienced around a decade previous, when a small group of individuals negotiated with management for their own interests and not the wider collective. UNISON Portsmouth City Branch prides itself on its election of local representatives who look out for the interests of all Operatives, whatever function they perform or shift pattern they undertake.

The challenge to UNISON’s role was naive as Portico management conducted ballot of the workforce on the continuation of union engagement in any form. This risked stripping away legally enforceable statutory rights to negotiation on key terms and conditions, access to information from the employer; time off for duties and for training conducted independently of Portico. Operatives have benefited the experience, expertise and independence of trained local, branch and regional representatives in, negotiations with management.

UNISON expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which the management team began the ballot without informing UNISON representatives, along with elements of the way the ballot conducted. UNISON has previously worked constructively for members pursuing and achieving a new staff canteen, full sick pay from the first day of absence during the coronavirus and a considerable reduction in compulsory redundancies following the announcement that Portico had lost a labour-intensive contract.

A combined campaign involving local stewards, UNISON Portsmouth City Branch and regional office staff put in place an immediate and sustained response to the threat to de-recognise. Within days of the ballot opening, UNISON produced a leaflet for members explaining the benefits of retaining recognition and the risks of de-recognition. This was distributed by e-mail and on-site and was followed by text messages to members. Local stewards conducted site meetings with the workforce and our stewards Dave Elliott, Clayton Harwood and Ray Sinden were extremely effective in responding to questions and getting our message out to members and non-members.

Portico Shipping handles a variety of goods and cargo from around the world and distributes it across the UK. It is most famous for handling fresh produce including 50% of the country’s banana imports. It currently plays a key role in getting fresh produce to supermarkets, during the coronavirus. UNISON is proud of our members undertaking this often dangerous work, leaving their families behind day or night to keep the country functioning.