Lines brace for Felixstowe strike after labor talks break down at UK ports
Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, is heading for a crippling 8-day strike after mediation talks with unions representing port workers appeared to reach an impasse last week. Port officials have offered to hold another round of talks, but Unite the Union, which represents 1,900 port workers and hourly workers, did not return to the table, sticking to its announcement that the strike would begin on August 21 and predicting “huge disruption”. throughout the UK supply chain.
Major carriers have scrambled to develop plans to handle the anticipated disruptions. Maersk, in a notice to customers, writes: “We expect the strike to have a significant impact on the range of ships and are actively working with ship partners to mitigate risk and disruption as much as possible.” However, they currently report that the plan is to significantly advance or delay schedules in order to “maximize the workforce available immediately before and immediately after the strike period. At this time, we will not be diverting any cargo to other ports in the UK or Northern Europe.”
The union has repeatedly called on the port to make ‘a reasonable offer’, citing current UK retail inflation of 11.9 per cent. Furthermore, they said that members, while keeping the port running during the pandemic, only received a 1.4% wage increase in 2021. They point out that workers’ wages are not keeping up while that Felixstowe and its parent company CK Hutchison Holding “are both massively profitable” while also paying large dividends to shareholders.
“We are disappointed and regret that despite our best efforts, we have still not been able to reach an agreement with Unite’s hourly arm,” the Port of Felixstowe said in its statement after talks ended. “Unite’s hourly branch again rejected the port’s improved position and refused to submit it to its members.”
Unite National Officer Robert Morton responded in UK media saying: “Unite’s door remains open for further talks but the strike will continue unless the company table a bid that our members can accept”.
During the last round of negotiations, Felixstowe added a cash payment of £500 (around US$600) to its proposal to union members. The port said this would be in addition to its proposed 7% wage increase for all employees.
The personnel branch of Unite and the Police Federation of Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company have agreed to make a similar offer to their members. Representatives of hourly workers, however, rejected the proposal, ending talks and paving the way for a strike.
“We urge them to consult with their members on the latest offer as soon as possible. There will be no winners from a strike, which will only result in their members losing the money they would otherwise have earned,” the port spokesman concluded.
Felixstowe handles around half of all imports into the UK with an annual volume of over four million TEUs. It is the UK’s main deep-water port included on routes from Asia operated by most major container lines. While the strike is expected to last just eight days, union officials predicted that “it will send massive shock waves throughout the UK supply chain”.