TANKERS have been left waiting at the mouth of the Milford Haven waterway as the pilots which guide the ships into the estuary are set to strike.

The Port of Milford Haven today confirmed it has received formal notification from Unite the Union that its members in the Port’s Pilotage, Launch Crew and Port Control teams intend to undertake industrial action in the form of a continuous strike starting on February 19.

Pilot crews are navigational experts responsible for steering large tankers safely into the Milford Haven waterway.

The pilot team, launch crew and port control workers are currently implementing a ban on overtime, which started on January 28.

The teams involved in the action were balloted and voted in favour of taking part in industrial action last year following proposed changes to pension provision and sick pay for future new employees joining the Port.

Unlike many organisations across the UK who have moved all employees across from a Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme to a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme, the Port is looking to close its Defined Benefit scheme to new members only in order to gradually reduce the level of risk associated with the DB Scheme over time with the aim of safeguarding existing members pension benefits.

Allan Card, Unite officer for Milford Haven, said the plan to introduce the DC scheme to new members amounted to a "two-tier pension system", and union members were concerned the change could lead to all workers having to move to the DC scheme.

Mr Card said the new scheme would also be less secure than the current pension.

"You could have a situation where somebody retires this month and somebody retires next month and they would have different pensions based on the stock market at the time," he said.

"We say given the conditions pilots work in there is no need for this change," he said, adding pilots had to venture out in dangerous conditions.

Mr Card added the union was prepared to return to the negotiating table at any time.

"Industrial action is the last thing any trade unionist wants.

"We postponed strike action to enable talks to take place up until the end of the year [Decemer 2018]."

A spokesman for the port said while it anticipates there will be no pilotage service available, some vessels will continue to be able to move.

Andy Jones, Interim Chief Executive at the Port, said: “Joint meetings have been taking place since October and these meetings are continuing.

"We are disappointed that action has commenced whilst discussions are ongoing and making every effort to find a solution to this dispute through continuing dialogue.

"We are working closely with our customers and wider stakeholders and making contingency plans in the event this action goes ahead.

"The safety of our staff, customers and the wider port community remains our number one priority.”

Dr Andrew Potter, a reader in logistics and transport at Cardiff University Business School, said if the delays for tankers were too long, there may be diversions to other ports if they were suitable for handling oil and gas.

What the energy companies in the Haven are saying

A spokesperson for South Hook LNG said: "We are responsible for the operation of South Hook LNG Terminal. We are not involved in the scheduling of vessels that discharge at the Terminal.  

However, we are aware of the proposed Industrial Action at the Port."

A spokesperson for Dragon LNG said: "We are committed to the highest standards of corporate responsibility, governance, compliance and accountability as set out in our Business Principles.

"We are unable to share information about our commercial operations given confidentiality requirements. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate or provide opinion regarding activity at the Port.

"Dragon’s business remains safe and we will continue to monitor services to respond accordingly."

A spokesperson for Valero said the company does not comment on operational matters.