Germany's North Sea Ports Face Longest Strike Action in Decades

The key port of Hamburg is among the seaports affected (file image)

Published Jul 13, 2022 12:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Dockworkers across major North Sea ports in Germany have yet again paralyzed operations after staging the longest strike in four decades following the collapse of the latest round of negotiations to resolve a protracted collective bargaining agreement dispute.

Trade union giant United Services Union (Ver.di) has called for a 48-hour workforce strike across terminals in the country after collective labor agreement negotiations with the Central Association of German Seaport Companies (ZDS) failed to reach a successful conclusion. The strike, set to run from 0600 on Thursday until 0600 on Saturday, is the third industrial action in as many weeks and the longest in more than 40 years.

German container shipping line Hamburg Süd said that it has been forced to observe a full stoppage for rail, road and ocean freight for both import and export across its German terminals for the duration of the strike. It directly affects operations in Bremerhaven, Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven.

“We have evaluated all impacted vessels and have no plans to omit ports or stop operations. Our aim is to return to business as usual serving your global logistics needs from 0600 on Saturday,” said Hamburg Süd in a statement.

The company added that in the interest of minimizing any further disruption to supply chains, it will be keeping a close eye on developments up to and during the next round of negotiations between ver.di and ZDS.

“Please note that at this stage, negotiations are still ongoing between the parties and there could be changes to the scheduled strike action at the very last minute, including the possibility of an agreement being reached and the strike being cancelled,” it said.

The longstanding collective bargaining agreement dispute has paralyzed operations at Germany’s busiest ports owing to the fact that ver.di represents approximately 12,000 workers at the seaports of Emden, Bremerhaven, Bremen, Brake, Wilhelmshaven and Hamburg.

In the dispute that has involved six rounds of negotiations all ending in a standoff, ver.di is demanding a 14 percent increase across the 58 collective bargaining companies including at the primary ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven. The union is also demanding an annual bonus of up to $1,200 due in part to rampant inflation, which is driving up the cost of living.

During the sixth round of negotiations last week, employers tabled an offer that included a permanent increase in wages from June 1, 2022 of between 5.18 percent for employees in automobile handling and eight percent for employees in full container companies as well as 3.5 percent for companies with job security. From June 1, 2023, wages are then to increase permanently by a further 3.1 percent, or two percent for companies with guaranteed employment, over a total period of 24 months.

While ver.di termed the offer of a permanent increase in wages of eight percent for the employees of the full container companies as welcome, it remained steadfast that employers are not meeting demands for a real inflation compensation.

“It would also be important to secure real wages in 2023 in order to create an actual compensation for inflation for the employees,” said ver.di negotiator Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is facing skyrocketing inflation, with food and energy inflation made worse as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The latest round of industrial action by German dockworkers is the third in as many weeks. Last month, the trade union called two strikes, one in early June lasting four hours and another in late June running for 12 hours.

With Germany being one of the most critical maritime hubs in Europe, the 24-hour strike is bound to have adverse supply chain impacts across the continent coming at a time when major European ports are grappling with a congestion crisis.