Strike action across UK ports, including those in Wales, could block sea ports across the country as disputes take place over compulsory medical examinations for port workers.
The Unite union, which has the bulk of its members in South Wales, is warning Associated British Ports (ABP) that industrial action could be brewing across its 21 ports, which handle around a quarter of the UK’s seaborne trade.
Unite says it has lodged a dispute concerning maritime pilots who navigate ships in and out of the UK’s waterways and ports.
The dispute follows ABP's introduction of increased medical standards last July without consultation, which Unite says is required under health and safety legislation and Unite’s recognition agreement.
However, the dispute could impact all 21 ports operated by ABP.
Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham said: "Maritime pilots are scarce, skilled and highly experienced. Ships can’t leave or enter the UK’s ports without them. So, it’s all the more incredible that ABP Ports is refusing to negotiate important changes to their health and safety.
"Unite is not opposed to enhanced checks but they need to be negotiated and introduced fairly. ABP needs to realise that Unite stands ready to defend our members’ jobs, terms and conditions."
Unite regional coordinating officer, Jane Jeffery said: "Pilots must be in a good physical condition to tolerate the physical stresses of boarding and landing ships.
"Unite is not opposed to enhancements, but we do expect the company to honour our agreements, honour health and safety legislation and enter into meaningful consultation."
In response, ABP said: “The health, safety and wellbeing of all colleagues is of critical importance to ABP. Having reviewed our already comprehensive package of health provision for our maritime colleagues, we have implemented a new regular health assessment to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of maritime colleagues, reflecting the demanding nature of the roles they carry out.
"We are disappointed that Unite have chosen to oppose the introduction of these measures, which we strongly believe are in the interests of their members. We continue to engage with Union representatives and the mention of industrial action is unhelpful.”