Container Standstill at German Seaports as Union Stages “Warning Strike”

Container and cargo movement was brought to a standstill by a strike across Germany's seaports (file photo)

Published Jun 17, 2024 1:18 PM by The Maritime Executive


Cargo and container handling at Germany’s major seaports was at a near standstill on Monday, June 17, as the powerful union Ver.di called a one-day strike as a warning. The union was seeking to put pressure on the terminal employers’ association ahead of a third round of wage negotiations.

The strike was called for 0500 starting in the major container ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven and then also spreading to the secondary ports of Bremen, Brake, and Emden. Media reports are that movements in the ports were at a standstill with pictures of trucks lined up on the bridges to the port in Hamburg.

Maersk issued an advisory to customers warning of “widespread implications on our network, with multiple vessels already planned to be worked today/tomorrow.” The second-largest container carrier is saying despite the primary ports only being closed for just 24 hours in this strike that there was a “possibility of congestion for delivery and pick up of containers from the terminal.” Maersk said it would be reviewing vessel schedules as there could be an impact on vessel departures. They said they would consider diversions or a restriction on the number of moves to reduce the impact on schedules.

Ver.di called on the workers from the regional ports to all congregate in Hamburg for a large demonstration. They were expecting 1,5000 to 2,000 members to join the protest.

"With their strikes in Hamburg, Bremen, Bremerhaven, and Emden, the port workers have already impressively shown last week that they are committed to their demands,” said Ver.di negotiator Maren Ulbrich. “From Monday, the pressure will be increased again to make it clear to the employers that the employees are behind the demands and need a real wage increase.”

The union is demanding a €3.00 increase per hour effective June 1, 2024 on its 12-month contract. They are also calling for shift allowances and a catch-up after workers had forgone the allowances in 2022. 

Talks were ongoing with the Central Association of German Seaport Operators (ZDS) but the union decided to stage the strike after no new proposal was put forth in the second round of talks. The employers are offering a 2.5 percent increase with a minimum of €0.60 per hour and €0.24 per hour for the allowance, bringing it to a total of €2.50 per hour.

Work is expected to resume in Hamburg and Bremerhaven on Tuesday but some of the smaller ports will remain on strike till Wednesday. The next round of negotiations is also scheduled for today, June 17, and tomorrow, June 18. 

Shippers and carriers are watching the situation closely after a bitter strike in 2022 which became the longest in decades at the ports. Ver.di staged a series of strikes before a new contract was finally agreed in August 2022. The industry is already concerned over the potential for congestion as volumes increase and ships are taking longer due to the diversions around Africa.