Industrial action in Ellesmere Port has seen trade unionists winning a court action over the right to picket.
Unite, the UK’s largest union, says it has won a ‘key legal victory’ overturning attempts to restrict the right to picket during strike action.
The legal case arose as a result of a dispute involving Sutton Tanker workers based in the town.
The 30 workers have been on strike since Friday, January 19 as a result of what Unite claims is the company’s plan to dismiss and re-engage them on inferior terms and conditions which would result in their pay being slashed.
On Wednesday, January 24 the union was given less than 30 minutes warning that Eastham Oil Refinery Ltd on North Road, where the workers are based, was in court seeking an injunction to prevent picketing in the locality.
As Unite was given no time to attend court and defend the case, a temporary injunction was granted and the case was adjourned until February 1.
At that hearing Unite overturned the injunction and secured the right to picket at the entrances of the lorry park. The court confirmed the separate right to conduct lawful protests on the public highway.
Unite, which had already proposed what the court eventually ordered, was awarded full legal costs from noon on January 30.
Eastham Oil Refinery Ltd was refused any costs for the hearing on January 24 or following owing to failings with its application.
Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett said: “This was a key legal victory. It was vital to preserve the right to picket during a lawful dispute.
“If Unite had been unsuccessful the fundamental right of freedom of association would have been greatly restricted.
“Frankly the action of Eastham Oil Refinery in seeking an injunction without allowing Unite to mount a defence was contemptible and I hope this defeat will persuade other companies not to try the same tactic in the future.”
The Sutton Tankers strike is continuing and on Monday, February 4 entered its third week.
Unite regional officer Colin Carr said: “Although Sutton Tankers has made a slightly improved offer this has been rejected by the workforce as it in no way meets the expectations of the workforce who still face sweeping cuts in pay.
“We urge the management at Sutton tankers to make a vastly improved offer in order to ensure that we can return to the negotiating table.
“Unite remains ready and willing to meet Sutton Tankers at any time in order to resolve this dispute.”
The union says its members at Sutton Tankers in the town voted 100% for strike action on a 97% turnout. It claimed the company planned to dismiss more than 30 workers, including all tanker drivers and fitters at the Eastham Refinery Ltd refinery on North Road and at Thomas Hardie Commercials on Bridges Road and re-engage them on inferior contracts of employment.
The union said: “Strike action is always a measure of last resort, but our members have had enough. They are determined to fight this attack on their terms and conditions, which slash our members’ conditions and pay rates.”
The Chronicle’s sister paper the Echo reports the company as saying the changes are essential to protect jobs in the long-term. The refinery has been approached for further comment.