A HAULAGE company has been accused of “disgraceful and underhand” tactics after an injunction was sought to scupper a staff strike.

Around 30 employees of Suttons Tankers have been manning the picket line since January 19 in protest at compulsory new contracts that could see wages slashed by more than a third.

They have based their protest at Eastham Refinery on North Road in Ellesmere Port – their place of work – but last Wednesday the refinery secured an interim high court injunction banning them from the site.

Unite the Union has accused Suttons bosses of hiding behind Eastham Refinery Ltd and has vowed to “vigorously challenge” the injunction.

Union chiefs claim they were given just half an hour's notice of the hearing at Manchester High Court which gave them no time to oppose it.

One employee, David Newman, told the Standard that Widnes-based Suttons called a meeting at the same time as the hearing as a diversion tactic.

“They called a meeting with the union reps,” he said. “We actually thought there might be some light at the end of the tunnel but sadly not.”

The case has now been adjourned until Thursday (February 1) when the union will have the chance to mount a legal counter-attack.

Unite regional officer Kenny Rowe said: “Unite will be vigorously challenging this injunction.

“This injunction which was applied for in the most disgraceful and underhand way is designed purely to deny workers their rights including the right of freedom of association.

“Suttons Tankers need to stop hiding behind Eastham Refinery Ltd and to return to the negotiating table in order to resolve this dispute.

“Our members only took strike action after the company’s actions in trying to force a contract on them which slashed their pay, left them with no other option.”

Unite says the company had planned to dismiss more than 30 workers based at the site on Friday, January 19, and re-hire them in February on substantially inferior contracts.

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

Father-of-three Mr Newman, who is employed as a shunter by Suttons, 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.

Currently staff contribute 10 per cent of their pay to their pension pot, with the company adding a further six per cent. Under the new contract this would be reduced to six per cent and one per cent respectively.

Furthermore, company bosses propose to increase weekly working hours from 37.5 to 47.5 and slash holidays from five weeks a year to four.

Mr Newman, of Westenra Avenue, said yesterday: “We have 100 per cent resolve. What they are proposing is just ridiculous.”

Suttons have not commented on the proposed details of the new contracts, including the reported pay cuts and extra hours.

In a brief statement, a spokesman said: “We are engaging in constructive discussions and hope progress can be made.”