Workers at the UK’s largest container port have backed strike action in dispute over pay that will cause “major logistical problems”.
Unite members at the Port of Felixstowe voted for industrial action after Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company offered a 5% pay increase, a raise below current inflation of 11.9%. The union stated strike action would “bring Felixstowe to a standstill and would cause major logistical problems” for shipping by sea and road.
Miles Hubbard, Unite regional officer, said: “Strike action at Felixstowe will inevitably create huge disruption across the UK’s supply chain. This dispute is of Felixstowe’s own making. Strike dates have yet to be announced but even at this late stage the dispute could be resolved by the company returning to negotiations and making a realistic offer.”
The workers recorded a 92% vote for the action on an 81% turnout. Felixstowe port currently handles 48% of the UK’s container trade.
A spokesperson for the Port of Felixstowe told Supply Management: “The company made what we believe to be a very fair offer and we are disappointed with the result of the ballot. The union has agreed to our request to meet with ACAS and we hope that any industrial action can be avoided.”
Robert Keen, director general at the British International Freight Association, told Supply Management: “Any disruption to operations at the port of Felixstowe, for whatever reason (industrial action; congestion; lack of dockers; or poorly implemented IT systems) will cause problems for BIFA members, as well as the international supply chains that they manage.
“The potential impact of the planned strike will depend on how long it lasts, if it goes ahead, and whether it results in shipping lines cancelling calls at the port or transferring those calls to other ports in the UK; or the near continent.”
The news comes alongside announcement of balloting at Liverpool docks, as 500 workers employed at MDHC Container Services vote on whether to strike over pay and conditions. If the employees back the industrial action, stoppages could begin at the end of August.
Steven Gerrard, Unite regional officer, said: “Strike action will inevitably severely affect shipping and road transport as well as creating shortages in supply chains but this dispute is entirely of Peel Ports own making. Unite has held extensive negotiations with the company but it has refused to address members' concerns.”
Meanwhile, data from supply chain tech company Project44 found dockworker strikes in Germany caused container dwell times to climb. Bremerhaven saw a peak of 9.1 days on July 17, up 112% from July 11's dwell time of 4.3 days.
Josh Brazil, VP supply chain insights at project44 said: “Despite the retail peak season fast approaching, fresh supply chain disruptions are brewing – with planned strikes and contract negotiations at the UK port of Felixstowe looking likely to disrupt the UK’s supply of goods during this important sales period. We are already seeing average import container dwell time up 69% to 6.57 days, from last week at 3.89 days. Some containers are dwelling for up to 12.74 days.
“Vessel schedules and port congestion has already been affected as a consequence of ongoing strike action in Europe, which will continue to have a ripple effect on container flows and carrier performance around the world for some time.
“It’s important that UK businesses – particularly retail businesses that are busy preparing for upcoming sales and holiday season – brace for a similar effect should Felixstowe come to a standstill like its’ European counterparts.”