Dockers in Felixstow are planning an eight-day wage strike that could cause serious disruption at Britain’s largest container port.
Around 1,900 Hong Kong port workers plan to walk away from work for more than a week from Sunday 21 August to Monday 29 August, according to Union Unite. Workers voted 92 percent in favor of the strike action last week.
According to the union, the most recent round of talks with the company in an arbitration service did not result in a “reasonable offer”, but further talks are planned for Monday.
A prolonged strike would certainly disrupt traffic through the port and exacerbate the problems facing the UK economy as it prepares for a deep year-long recession.
Felixstow on the Suffolk coast handles the equivalent of around 2,000 ships in 4ft by 20ft sea containers each year – including some of the largest container ships ever built. According to the EU statistics authority Eurostat, it is the eighth largest container port in Europe.
The port employs a total of 2,500 people. Unite said the loss of most of its workforce, including crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores (responsible for offloading vessels) would have a “huge impact” on UK supply chains. However, a port source said the strike would not mean a full shutdown.
The tariff dispute is the latest in a series of problems affecting Britain’s transport infrastructure. Passengers via Dover also faced long queues last month when the port was unable to cope with a large number of bank holidays after school ended for many schools in England and Wales.
Many British railway workers and drivers have also gone on strike, with two more days of action planned over the next fortnight.
Unite said it had turned down an offer from employer Felixstow Dock and Railway Company for a 7% pay rise. The union said it was below the retail price index (RPI) inflation rate of 11.8 percent, its preferred measure, and that workers received a 1.4 percent wage increase, well below inflation last year. Company statistics show that the average annual salary of the staff involved is £43,000.
Finally, Felixstow is owned by CK Hutchison Holdings, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate that controls 52 ports worldwide and handles the equivalent of 88m by 20ft containers. It also owns a number of other companies that operate in the UK, including retailers Superdrug and The Perfume Shop, Three Mobile Networks and water and energy companies.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “Felixstow Dock and its parent company, CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd, are both hugely profitable and incredibly wealthy. They are perfectly capable of paying the employees a fair daily salary.
“The company has prioritized paying millions of pounds in dividends to its employees rather than paying a decent salary.”
Unite pointed to Felixstow Dock and Railway Company’s dividend payments to its owners. According to the company’s balance sheets, the dividend was £100m in 2020 and £42m in 2021.
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The company’s pre-tax profit rose to £78m in 2021, up more than 25% from £61m last year.
A company spokesman said: “We understand our employees’ concerns about the rising cost of living and are committed to doing everything in our power to continue investing in the port’s success. Talks are ongoing and the company’s latest talks The position is up 7%.
“There has not been a port strike since 1989 and we are disappointed that the union announced an industrial action during the negotiations. The port offers secure and well-paid jobs and there are no winners in labor disputes. Will happen. “