Felixstowe strike threatens operations at UK’s largest container port

Staff at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest container port, voted in favour of strike action in a pay dispute as reported by Unite the Union on Thursday. The trade union warned of widespread disruption across the supply chain if the strike is held.

The dockworkers join a growing number of employees in a variety of industries, from rail to telecommunications, who are resorting to strike action as wage rises fail to keep pace with inflation, which is expected to reach double digits in Britain by the end of the year.

In a statement on their website, Unite said, “At Felixstowe, Unite members are in charge of all aspects of the port’s operation. On an 81% turnout, the workers voted 92% in favour of strike action.”

“The dispute arose as a result of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company offering its employees a 5% pay increase. With the real (RPI) rate of inflation currently at 11.9%, this is an effective pay cut. Last year, the workforce received a 1.4% pay increase that was less than inflation.”

According to Unite’s regional officer Miles Hubbard, the strike will “inevitably cause huge disruption across the UK’s supply chain.”

A port spokesperson said that the company believes that they made a very fair offer and they were disappointed that the workers voted for a strike. He also added that the company wishes to avoid industrial action and that the union has agreed to meet with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) next week.

The union did not provide specific dates for the strike, which will occur next month.

A strike at Felixstowe, a port that handled 17.6 million tonnes of container traffic and more than 20,000 ships in 2021, would exacerbate the problems caused by rail strikes, border delays and labour shortages.

Every week, Felixstowe handles approximately 45,000 containers containing clothing, consumer goods, and manufacturing components. The strike by Unite is timed to coincide with an increase in traffic as the number of containers begin to rise in August with retailers bringing in more goods, particularly from the far east, to fill their warehouses before Christmas.

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is owned by the Hong Kong-based conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings, which also owns the Three mobile phone network and the healthcare retailer Superdrug. 

According to its most recent financial statements, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company made a pre-tax profit of nearly £61 million in 2020.

The workers feel that Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is an extremely wealthy company and can afford to give them a pay rise.

Network Rail, the owner of Britain’s rail infrastructure, hardened its stance in the ongoing dispute with the RMT rail union on Thursday, launching a legal process to force changes to work practices if the two sides do not reach an agreement linking the changes to job and pay guarantees.

Given the long-term decline in commuting, Network Rail stated that reforms, such as changes in rostering and the use of technology, were required to fund any pay increase. The company stated that the changes may result in a smaller maintenance workforce and that it is working to avoid mandatory redundancies.

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