Hundreds of fish porters from Billingsgate fish market held a march in protest at proposed changes to Tower Hamlet’s historic market.
They will hand in a petition with over 20,000 signatures to the Mayor of London. The petition opposes plans by the City of London Corporation, which owns the market, to revoke bye-laws surrounding the site in order to offer more freedom to employers.
The workers and their union Unite say the changes will “destroy centuries of heritage” and have no support from people on the ground. London regional secretary for Unite, Steve Hart, said: “It is now time for the City of London Corporation to come to its senses and abandon the pointless changes being planned for Billingsgate Market…Today the Billingsgate fish porters will hand in to the Mayor of London the thousands of signatures they have collected in support of their campaign, as well as letters from Londoners calling for the unique heritage of the market not to be threatened in this way. The Corporation should now scrap the plan and let Billingsgate get on with its job”.
Unite will also hand in the formal response to the City of London Corporation consultation on the eradication of the bye-laws.
The City of London has said it is confident that the market can “adapt to changing circumstances”. The bye-law it wants to revoke dates back to 1876, permitting the Superintendent to licence anyone of ‘good character and fitness’ to be a porter”. In a statement, the Corporation continues: “The licence is, therefore, a permit to work but does not guarantee employment, nor does it guarantee standards, which are a matter for employers.” They stress that “The future of the market is not in any way jeopardised by revoking the byelaw and removing the licensing requirement.”
Their backers say the porters are highly trained and know how to ensure the smooth running of the market. The fish porters, who will march dressed in their white uniforms and carrying placards, have the support of Labour contender for London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp and London Assembly member John Biggs.
Billingsgate is the United Kingdom’s largest inland fish market and one of the oldest, formally established by Act of Parliament on its original Billingsgate Wharf site in 1699. An average of 25,000 tonnes of fish and fish products are sold through its merchants each year.