A DISPUTE between a haulage company and union Unite over new contracts is said to have reached an “amicable conclusion”.

Around 30 employees of Suttons Tankers had manned the picket line from January 19 in protest at compulsory new contracts that they said would see wages slashed by more than a third.

They based their protest at Eastham Refinery on North Road in Ellesmere Port.

Suttons told The Standard an “amicable conclusion” had been reached “following a series of productive discussions between Suttons and Unite”.

Michael Cundy, managing director of Widnes-based Suttons Tankers, said in a statement: “I am pleased that we have managed to resolve this situation which was difficult for all involved.

“We have managed to agree a position with our workforce which enables them to continue to work on this contract and positions our customer to compete in this very competitive sector.”

Staff at the company are not permitted to discuss the agreed terms of the new contract.

No one at Unite was available for comment before the Standard went to press yesterday (Tuesday, February 20).

The agreement over contract terms comes after a bitter argument between the two sides that saw Eastham Refinery Ltd seek an injunction to stop staff picketing at the site entrance.

It was granted temporarily as Unite’s lawyers were reportedly given just half an hour’s notice of the hearing at Manchester High Court.

However, at a subsequent hearing they successfully argued that such action greatly restricted workers’ fundamental rights.

Unite accused Suttons of hiding behind Eastham Refinery Ltd and following the victory its 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.

“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.”

Unite said the dispute began after Suttons planned to dismiss more than 30 workers and re-hire them on substantially inferior contracts.

The move included 23 drivers, four garage staff and two ‘shunters’, who load the vehicles with hazardous cargo at the refinery.

One employee previously told this newspaper the strike action was necessary to “save his livelihood”.

He said the company was proposing to slash all employees’ pay by between 37 and 40 per cent and reduce pensions contributions. Furthermore, company bosses were proposing to increase weekly working hours from 37.5 to 47.5 and slash holidays from five weeks a year to four.

Details of the new contracts have not been made public.