Felixstowe dockers’ eight-day strike expected to disrupt UK supply chain

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Felixstowe longshoremen are planning an eight-day strike over wages that could cause serious disruption to the UK’s biggest container port.

Nearly 1,900 workers plan to stop working for more than a week at the Hong Kong port, starting on Sunday, August 21, and ending on Monday, August 29, according to the Unite union. Workers voted 92% in favor of the strike last week.

The union said the latest round of negotiations with the company at the Acas conciliation service did not yield a “reasonable offer”, but further negotiations are planned for Monday.

Prolonged strikes would almost certainly disrupt traffic through the port, adding to the problems facing the UK economy as it braces for a deep year-long recession.

Felixstowe, off the Suffolk coast, handles the equivalent of 4 meters of 20-foot containers a year from around 2,000 ships – including some of the largest container ships ever made. It is the eighth largest container port in Europe, according to EU statistics agency Eurostat.

The port employs 2,500 people in total. Unite said the loss of most of its workforce, including crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores (responsible for unloading ships) would have a “huge effect” on UK supply chains. However, a port source said a strike would not mean closing it completely.

The pay dispute is the latest in a series of problems plaguing the UK’s transport infrastructure. Travelers to Dover also suffered long lines last month as the port was unable to cope with the high number of tourists after the end of term at many schools in England and Wales.

Britain’s railway workers and train drivers have also staged several strikes, with more action planned in two days over the next fortnight.

Unite said it had rejected an offer from the employer, Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, for a 7% pay raise. The union said it was below the retail price index (RPI) inflation rate of 11.8%, its preferred measure, and that workers received a pay raise of 1.4% below inflation last year. The company’s figures suggest that the average annual salary of the workers involved is £43,000.

Felixstowe is ultimately owned by CK Hutchison Holdings, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate that controls 52 ports worldwide, handling the equivalent of 88 million 20-foot containers. It also has a number of other businesses operating in the UK, from retailers Superdrug and The Perfume Shop, to the Three mobile network and water and energy companies.

Unite Secretary General Sharon Graham said: “Felixstowe Docks and its parent company, CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd, are extremely profitable and incredibly wealthy. They are fully capable of paying the workforce a fair wage.

“The company prioritized delivering multimillion-dollar dividends over paying its workers a decent wage.”

Unite pointed to dividend payments made by Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to its owners. Dividends were worth £100m in 2020 and £42m in 2021, according to company accounts.

The company’s pre-tax earnings rose to £78m in 2021, up more than 25% from £61m a year ago.

A company spokesperson said: “We understand our employees’ concerns about the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help as we continue to invest in the port’s success. Discussions are ongoing and the company’s latest position in the negotiations is a 7% salary increase.

“The port has not had a strike since 1989 and we are disappointed that the union has notified industrial action while negotiations are ongoing. The port offers secure, well-paid employment and there will be no winners from industrial action.”

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