Week-Long Strike Scheduled to Disrupt Container Movement at Felixstowe

strike at UK Felixstowe port
Felixstowe is the UK's busiest container port handling nearly half of all imports in to the country (Fexlistowe file photo)

Published Aug 5, 2022 1:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

The union representing dockworkers at the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, is moving forward with its plans for a week-long strike. Unite the Union announced today that its more than 1,900 workers will stop work from August 21 to 29 because in the union’s words Felixstowe which is operated by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchinson has “failed to make an acceptable pay offer.”

Felixstowe is one of Europe’s busiest container ports and a stop on the routes for many of the leading shipping companies operating between Asia and Europe. The port handles more than four million TEU annually, which accounts for roughly half of all the imports into the UK. Seventeen major shipping lines include the port on their routes with approximately 2,000 ships calling at the port each year.

“Strike action will cause huge disruption and will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain,” predicts Bobby Morton from Unite. “This dispute is entirely of the company’s own making. It has had every opportunity to make our members a fair offer, but has chosen not to do so.”

The union reported last month that 92 percent of its members had voted in favor of the labor action at the Felixstowe Docks. Included in the membership are the crane drivers, machine operators, and stevedores responsible for the loading and unloading of the containerships. This would be the first labor action at the port since 1989 according to the port operator.

At issue is the pay scale and what the union calls delayed raises. Last year members received a 1.4 percent pay increase while this year the union cites the UK’s current inflation rate of 11.8 percent. The union rejected Felixstowe’s latest offer for a 7 percent increase in wages.

“We understand our employees' concerns at the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help whilst continuing to invest in the port's success,” Felixstowe said in a statement posted to its website. “The port provides secure and well-paid employment and there will be no winners from industrial action. We are disappointed that the union has served notice of industrial action while talks are still ongoing.”

The union and employers are meeting with a UK arbitration service, ACAS, in hopes of reaching a settlement before the strike deadline. Unite served notice of the timeline for the strike after talks ended yesterday failing to make progress. However, the talks are scheduled to resume on Monday, August 8. 

This would be the latest in a series of labor actions across the UK as unions push for higher wage increases in the face of the high real inflation rate. The Port of Bristol also had a strike and union members at Liverpool were also recently voting to authorize a strike. The Rail, Maritime, and Transport union is also planning railroad strikes for August 18 and 20. 

Flexistowe emphasized that the company continues to actively seek a solution that works for all parties and that avoids an industrial action.