Third Strike Set for Liverpool as UK Ports Labor Disputes Continue

Liverpool port strike
The second strike at Liverpool is still running while a third strike was scheduled to start October 24 (Unite)

Published Oct 14, 2022 4:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The labor disputes at two of the UK’s largest ports show no signs of progress as fears continue that the supply chain disruptions will grow as both Felixstowe and Liverpool have been the target of strikes. While a second strike is continuing at Liverpool, the rhetoric between the two sides has heated up with the union announcing plans for a third strike in just a matter of days. Felixstowe is still recovering from its second strike that ended on October 5.

At issue in both ports are pay raises that are in line with the current rate of inflation in the UK. Unite which represents dockworkers and other positions at both ports argues that Hutchison which operates the container port at Felixstowe and Peel Ports which operates Liverpool have made offers that would represent pay cuts for employees because of the rate of inflation.

“Our members are standing firm, and have their union’s complete support. The company must put forward a pay rise they can accept or this strike continues,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. “Instead of negotiations to resolve this dispute, the company has chosen to threaten jobs and repeatedly mislead about the deal it has tabled.”

Peel Ports in a letter to the union on October 6 reiterated what it said was its final offer which they contend amounts to an average increase in pay of 10.2 percent, consisting of 8.9 percent in basic pay and other considerations. They argue that “during the last six months the trade union has made little attempt to negotiate,” refusing arbitration and making a demand in the last negotiations for a one-year pay deal at 15.7 percent.

“If Peel had genuinely offered 10.2 percent to all grades, we would ballot our members,” responds Unite national coordinating officer for free ports, Steven Gerrard. “But they haven’t, nor have they addressed their failure to implement 2021’s pay agreement.”

Unite cites a settlement Peel reached with workers at shipbuilder Camel Laird in Birkenhead for an 11 percent increase. They also contend that Peel however has begun to implement layoffs at Liverpool citing downturns in volume.

With both sides far apart, Unite today said that it has now authorized a third strike at Liverpool scheduled for October 24 to November 7. The current job action began on October 11 and is scheduled to end next Monday, October 17. 

Concerned about the potential impact on the supply chain, the BBC reports that representatives of Unite and Hutchison were called before parliament’s Transport Select Committee on October 12. While it is the first labor dispute at Felixstowe in 30 years, the port says shippers and carriers are managing and that so far there have been no major disruptions. They contend that retailers brought merchandise to the UK earlier and now that vessels and shipments are rerouting during the strikes.

Unite told the parliament committee that they are at a standstill accusing the ports of refusing to negotiate further. The union argues that both companies are very profitable and can afford wage increases keeping pace with inflation. Unite has reported success with many other employers in the transport sector agreeing to increases at 11 percent or more. 

The two companies and the union appear firm in their positions. No further talks are scheduled in either of the disputes.