Strikes Threaten to Paralyze Both Felixstowe and Liverpool in August

longshore strikes at UK ports
Two of the UK's ports could be hit by strikes in August (Felixstowe file photo)

Published Jul 28, 2022 1:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK is the latest country facing the prospects of disruptive port strikes, which according to the union would inevitably severely affect shipping and create shortages in supply chains. Unite, the union representing workers at the UK’s busiest container port, Felixstowe reports that members overwhelmingly authorized a strike for next month while voting for a potential strike at Liverpool is also underway. 

The UK would become the latest to experience the labor unrest, with the two potential strikes following a recent settlement at Scotland’s Lerwick port. Germany’s North Sea ports have also recently been hit by work stoppages, while truckers in South Korea blocked ports in June, and in the U.S. slow progress is being reported in the contract negotiations for West Coast longshore workers.

“This dispute is of Felixstowe’s own making,” said Miles Hubbard, Unite regional officer. The union reports that overwhelmingly, 92 percent of workers voted to authorize a strike with a strong turnout of 82 percent of members voting. The date for the strike was not announced but Unite said Felxistowe “is set to come to a standstill next month.”

The UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe handles more than four million TEU and approximately 2,000 ships each year. According to Unite the Union, the port operated by a division of Hutchison Ports accounts for just under half of the container trade in the UK and employs about 2,550 people.

“Unite is focused on defending the jobs, pay, and conditions of its members, and we will give 100 percent support to our members at Felixstowe,” said Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite. “Workers should not be paying the price for the pandemic with a pay cut. Unite has undertaken 360 disputes in a matter of months and we will do all in our power to defend workers.”

The port responded to the news by saying that it had made “a very fair offer,” which called for a five percent pay increase. The union counters that inflation in the UK is currently at 11.9 percent meaning that it would be a pay cut for workers coming after they received only a 1.4 percent increase in wages last year.

MDHC, part of the Peel Group, which operates the port at Liverpool reportedly made a better offer of a seven percent increase which was also rejected by the union for its approximately 500 members staffing the Liverpool port. The union reports that there are other open issues in the negotiations including agency rates of pay, work schedules, and a bonus payment agreed to in the 2021 pay deal. Voting to authorize the job action began last Monday and will run till August 15. Unite said if the workers vote for the strike action the stoppage could begin at the end of August.

Last week, workers at Lerwick Port in Scotland ended their strike with the Unite reporting improvements in pay, pension contributions, and work-life balance. The new contract provides for a pay increase of between 34 and 38 percent in hourly wages.

Unite said that while it was moving forward with plans for the job actions it was not too late even at this late stage for the companies to resume negotiations making realistic offers for members addressing the current economic situation in the UK.