Thanet council has denied claims that frontline staff such as binmen and street cleaners were taken off their duties to unload car deliveries from Gefco ships at Ramsgate Port.
Concerns have been raised on social media over how the car shipments were unloaded and who by, what insurance was in place and whether risk assessments were carried out.
At least eight street cleansing staff have been named by a source, who claims they took part in unloading.
Transport and logistics company GEFCO UK Ltd previously had a deal with Thanet council for use of the port between January 2016-January 2017.
This deal was not renewed but imports have been arriving on an ad hoc basis when other ports cannot accommodate the load.
A delivery was made in February by cargo ship the Ciudad De Cadiz of 700 vehicles in a one-off stop due to there being no space for her at Felixstowe.
The imports resumed this week on Monday (July 23) with further arrivals for July 25,27 and 29. There is then expected to be one delivery per week until September.
Gefco operates at 18 UK sites, including Sheerness. The company imports and distributes some 500,000 vehicles annually through UK ports for several major vehicle manufacturers.
Thanet council says claims the authority has taken staff away from frontline duties to act as stevedores are incorrect.
A spokesman said: “The majority of the TDC staff used are from the Port and Harbour, although we have used staff from other departments within the Operational Services Directorate, but these have been non-frontline staff so there has been no impact on services.
“We only ask for volunteers to provide additional support to the Port and Harbour team and it is only up to 5 maximum.”
Thanet council say staff unload early morning shipments before their normal work hours. TDC says managers and supervisors, including head of operational services Gavin Waite, have taken part in the cargo unloading but Gefco has always been aware the work would be carried out by a mix of TDC and agency staff.
A TDC spokesman said: “This was discussed direct with GEFCO and senior managers observed the first unloading and were very impressed as we unloaded 1000 cars in 3 hours.”
Thanet council says figures for Monday’s shipment at the port show unloading staff were made up of four marshalls, who take control of transfer and car parking, from the Maritime and technical Services department; 24 agency staff, removing cars from berth to parking; 11 Thanet council staff, removing cars from the ship, with nine from maritime and Technical Services and two from minor works.
A TDC spokesman said: “Staff removing the cars are not employed as stevedores due to this being so infrequent and it not being cost effective. It has always been our preferred option to use TDC staff on the ship – they now have the experience to do this quickly and safely.
“All our employees are covered by TDC insurance, agency staff are covered by separate liability insurance.
“HRGO (agency) have a copy of the risk assessment and have been instructed to give this to all of their staff attending, before the unloading of each vessel. All the staff, both TDC and agency, have a copy of the risk assessment and have to sign to say they have read it and understand it. There is also a toolbox talk to go through it verbally.”
The shipments provide income for the port which has losses of £20million since 2010, according to Thanet council’s statement of accounts for each financial year from 2010/11 to 2017/18.
The figures exclude £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Last year Thanet council said the figures included costs which are shared across other areas of the council for the running of its services, rather than being directly incurred in running the port.
This year the port recorded a loss of £1.8million. Expenditure amounted to £2.8 million and income was £1million.
The 2017/18 accounts for the port include an entry of £37,757.90 income for port stevedoring.
In the 2017/18 financial year expenditure included £51,722.40 on consultancy charges; £194,353.96 on security and £500,000 on grants/subscriptions.
Other income included £63,269.75 from aggregates port fees and £42,991.72 from vessels/tugboats.