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Strike called at Felixstowe as talks continue

Workers at the UK’s largest container terminal will stop work for eight days this month

Felixstowe is continuing talks with the Unite union in an effort to resolve the dispute ahead of a planned strike. Move comes as industrial action grows across the ports sector

REPRESENTATIVES from the port of Felixstowe and the Unite union will return to arbitration service Acas to head off a threatened strike at the UK’s largest container terminal.

More than 1,900 workers at the Hutchison-owned terminal are due to walk out from August 21 for eight days after earlier talks failed to reach a conclusion.

The move comes after the union balloted members last month, and received overwhelming support for industrial action over what it considers to be a below-inflation pay settlement.

Felixstowe has offered staff a 7% pay increase but Unite says this is significantly below retail price index inflation that is running at more than 11%.

“Both Felixstowe docks and its parent company CK Hutchison are both massively profitable and incredibly wealthy,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham. “They are fully able to pay the workforce a fair day’s pay. The company has prioritised delivering multi-million pound dividends rather than paying its workers a decent wage.”

A spokesperson for Hutchison said the company was actively seeking a solution that worked for all parties and would avoid industrial action.

“We understand our employees’ concerns at the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help while continuing to invest in the port’s success,” he said. “Discussions are ongoing and the company’s latest position in negotiations is an enhanced pay increase of 7%.

He added that the port, which has not had a strike since 1989, was disappointed that the union had served notice to strike while negotiations continued.

“The port provides secure and well-paid employment and there will be no winners from industrial action.”

Any industrial action that shuts the port down is likely to have a significant impact on the UK’s already disrupted supply chains.

Last year, Felixstowe handled an estimated 3.7m teu, more than the combined total of its largest rivals at London Gateway and Southampton.

Moreover, the action will take place as supply chains are at the top of the peak season rush, with inventory being stocked up for the back-to-school and Christmas shopping seasons.

“Strike action will cause huge disruption and will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain, but this dispute is entirely of the company’s own making,” said Unite national officer for docks Bobby Morton. “It has had every opportunity make our members a fair offer but has chosen not to do so. Felixstowe needs to stop prevaricating and make a pay offer which meets our members’ expectations.”

Industrial action has become the latest problem that container terminals have had to deal with after two years of pandemic-related congestion and disruption.

German union Ver.di has called a series of strikes at key German hubs and there have been similar actions at AntwerpSouth Korean ports also faced disruption from a week-long truckers’ strike

Unite has held a ballot for strike action at Liverpool, the results of which will be announced next week and which could see further action taken.

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