Nearly 2,000 workers quit their jobs at Britain’s biggest container port on the first day of an eight-day strike, in the latest round of industrial action hitting various sectors of the economy.
The strike at the port of Felixstowe on the east coast completes a week which has seen various strikes by thousands of transport workers in wage disputes, such as the cost of living crisis bites.
About 1,900 Unite members, including crane operators, machine operators and stevedores, will take part in the first strike to disrupt the port since 1989, after more than nine votes in favour.
The union warned that the shutdown of the port, which handles nearly half of the containerized cargo entering the country, have a significant impact on UK supply chains and the logistics and transport sectors.
But a port source played down the warning, telling the PA news agency that the strikes would be “an inconvenience and not a disaster”.
The supply chain is used to disruptions as a result of the pandemic, he said.
“Disruption is the new normal. The supply chain has moved from ‘just in time’ to just in case,” he added.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the docks at Felixstowe are “hugely profitable”.
“The latest figures show that in 2020 it made £61m in profit,” she said.
“Its parent company, CK Hutchison Holding Ltd, is so wealthy that in the same year it distributed £99million to its shareholders.
“So they can give the workers at Felixstowe a decent pay raise,” she said.
On the reasons for their strike, Unite’s senior regional organizer Miles Hubbard told Sky News: “This year we asked our members what they considered to be a reasonable demand for pay. The figure that came back was 10%, which roughly reflects where inflation is right now.
“We took this to the company, and over weeks and months of negotiation, it became clear that the company was unable or unwilling to meet the request we had made.”
He added: “It eventually led to a vote for industrial action, and now industrial action in this country has a very high threshold, it’s very difficult to vote for.”
Mr Hubbard said Felixstowe dockworkers achieved an 80% turnout and 92% voted to strike.
“Unfortunately, the company has still not been able to come up with a sufficient offer for us to return to our members and proceed to vote on.”
He added that they do not compare themselves to public sector workers such as nurses who are paid less because “it is a business that is flooded with money”.
“The profits this company has made over the past two years are measured in the hundreds of millions, so the idea that there is some sort of cash flow problem is utterly ridiculous.”
The Port of Felixstowe said it was “disappointed” that Unite had not “come to the table for constructive discussions to find a solution”.
“We recognize these are tough times but…we believe the company’s offer, which is worth more than 8% on average…is fair,” he said in a statement. communicated.
“The port regrets the impact this action will have on UK supply chains…there will be no winners from this unnecessary industrial action,” he added.
According to the company, the Port of Felixstowe Staff Union, representing around 500 positions, voted to accept the same wage offer that Unite had refused to offer its members.