Felixstowe Port pay dispute turns bitter as second strike by dockers looms
Claim and counter-claim are being thrown around in the Felixstowe pay dispute, ahead of next ...
Cosco is to omit its CSCL Brisbane and YM Evolution services into Felixstowe next week, after the eight-day strike by dock workers begins on Sunday.
Unite union negotiators walked out on discussions with the port authority last week, rejecting a 7% wage increase and £500 ($600) lump sum as being “fairly far away” from what its 1,900 members were willing to accept. It claimed that, with inflation above 10%, it was “effectively, a pay cut”.
The carrier said: “The port of Felixstowe work force has announced its intention to strike from Sunday until 28 August… [we] have rescheduled vessels that were due.”
And Cosco said all import containers left on the quay during the strike would continue to accrue detention & demurrage charges after the contracted free period.
It added: “For laden containers picked up from Felixstowe by merchant haulage, there’ll be no empty restitution facilities available during the strike period. [We’ll] continue to try and load export units, but customers are advised to speak with local Cosco export contacts.”
One forwarder told The Loadstar they were awaiting contingency plans by other carriers, but had been expecting some resort to omissions.
They said it was likely UK cargo would be offloaded at places like Antwerp and Rotterdam – ports already contending with industrial disputes of their own as well as severe congestion – or “possibly Tangiers”.
“This will be remembered as the summer of logistics discontent, and I believe there could be a logistics armageddon on the horizon,” the forwarder said. “This is going to be a very turbulent time, hitting 50% of deepsea trade that will not be functioning properly, with vessels being redirected, offloading in other countries, or parked up outside the port.
“All this is happening in an already discombobulated ocean freight market, with goods caught up for weeks, even months, and then strikes in Liverpool in September – it all looks ominous.”
Many shippers are asking “how will we get our goods?” if containers are off-loaded at European ports, as UK importers are also having to contend with a post-Brexit landscape that has scared European drivers off.
Allseas Shipping Company MD Darren Wright, explained the company’s contingencies if the Liverpool strike goes ahead: “We still work very closely with both Teesport and Port of Tyne which some of our vessels have called so we do have contingency options should the need arise.
“We will also look at slowing down or speeding up vessels to arrive within windows that mitigate delays at the Port.”
He added that the line will take final decisions after discussions with Peel Ports and clients as to the best course of action.
Forwarder Metro Shipping said it would review modal/service options and work with partners to plan haulage available in the UK and on the continent, as it learns of carrier contingencies.
It warned customers: “A seven-day delay will take more than seven days to rectify, and there will be consequences to the port’s closure that will reverberate for weeks. And that is without further industrial action being confirmed.
“We have created an eight-strong strike action team, which, working with the port, carriers and our contracted long-term haulage and rail partners, has been delivering and moving containers to off-dock holding areas ahead of Sunday.”
Some, though, have sought to downplay the impact of the strikes, suggesting that with London Gateway and Southampton congestion-free, there are alternative gateways for vessels to call and unload cargo. But one forwarder challenged this.
“Felixstowe handles 30,000-40,000 containers each week, that alone is enough to tell you there will be an impact,” said the forwarder. “And if these alternative gateways were really viable, why would Cosco be omitting services to the UK and not redirecting them to these ports? I think it is likely we will see many more vessels omitting, and this [situation] will take weeks to resolve.”
The forwarder also questioned why it had taken “so long” for carriers and Felixstowe to give details of contingencies and added that the outcome at Felixstowe would reverberate, with Southampton and London Gateway workers likely to follow suit if a settlement in line with inflation was not reached.