Lines Prepare for Felixstowe Strike After UK Port Labor Talks Stall
Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, is heading for a crippling 8-day strike after mediation talks with the unions representing port workers appeared to reach an impasse last week. Port officials offered to hold further rounds of talks, but Unite the Union that represents 1,900 staff and hourly employees at the port did not return to the table, instead holding to its announcement that the strike would begin on August 21 and predicting “huge disruptions” throughout the UK supply chain.
The major carriers have been scrambling to make plans to manage the anticipated disruptions. Maersk in an advisory to customers writes, "We expect the strike action to have significant impact to the vessel line up and are actively working along with vessel partners to mitigate risk and disruption as much as possible." However, they report at the moment that the plan is to either significantly advance or delay schedules to "maximize available labor immediately before and straight after the strike period. At present, we will not be diverting any cargo to other UK or North European ports."
The union has repeatedly called for the port to make “a reasonable offer,” citing the current 11.9 percent retail inflation in the UK. Further, they said that members while keeping the port functioning during the pandemic only received a 1.4 percent wage increase in 2021. They highlight that workers’ pay is not keeping up while Felixstowe and its parent company CK Hutchison Holding “are both massively profitable” while also paying large shareholder dividends.
“We are disappointed and regret that despite our best efforts we have still been unable to reach an agreement with the hourly branch of Unite,” the port of Felixstowe said in its statement after the talks ended. “The hourly branch of Unite has again rejected the port's improved position and refused to put it to its members.”
Unite national officer Robert Morton responded in the British media saying, “Unite's door remains open for further talks but strike action will go ahead unless the company tables an offer that our members can accept."
During the last round of negotiations, Felixstowe added a £500 (approximately US$600) cash payment to its proposal to the union members. The port said it would be in addition to its proposed seven percent wage increase for all employees.
The staff branch of Unite and the Police Federation of Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company agreed to put a similar offer to their members. The representatives for the hourly employees however rejected the proposal, ending the talks and clearing the way for the strike.
“We urge them to consult 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 money they would otherwise have earned,” concluded the port spokesperson.
Felixstowe handles roughly half of all the imports into the UK with an annual volume of more than four million TEU. It is the primary deep-water port for the UK included on the routes from Asia operated by most of the major container lines. While the strike is scheduled to last only eight days, union officials have predicted that “it will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain.”