Port of Felixstowe Photo 218939408 © Peter Moulton Dreamstime.com
© Peter Moulton Dreamstime.com.

Ocean carriers calling at Felixstowe are making contingency plans in case the eight-day strike at the UK’s biggest container port starting on Sunday is not a one-off.

So far, the strategy of the 2M and Ocean alliances, for example, has been to either advance the Felixstowe call in their vessel rotations, or delay it until after the last day of the stoppage, 29 August.

However, with no more meetings planned between the port management and Unite union negotiators, carriers are increasingly concerned that the pay dispute could be long-running, with a series of further 24- or 48-hour strikes.

This follows the news, reported by The Loadstar yesterday, that Liverpool dockers had voted for strike action after rejecting the Peel Group-owned port’s 7% wage offer.

The offer to 500 Liverpool dockers was the same as put on the table by Felixstowe’s negotiators to their 1,900 port workers – albeit at the latter there was an additional lump sum of £500 ($601) offered before talks broke down at ACAS last week.

A Felixstowe agency contact told The Loadstar today the “mood was less optimistic by the day” that the port would return to normal after the strike.

“Our owners are worried that the strike will be followed by threats of more industrial action, and that uncertainty would, in some ways, be worse than the strike itself, for which in most cases the lines have been able to plan for and work around,” he said.

Understandably, the two major shipping line groupings are keeping their cards close to their chest on their contingency strategies, but The Loadstar understands that the Ocean Alliance may offload UK cargo at Piraeus, while 2M partners Maersk and MSC are investigating the options for over-carrying UK imports to Wilhelmshaven and Antwerp.

Nonetheless, their options are limited, negotiations over strikes at German ports to support wage negotiations between trade union ver.di and the Central Association of German Seaport Companies are no nearer resolution.

And a court-imposed moratorium on further industrial action at German ports expires on 26 August, with the next round of talks, stemmed for the 22nd, regarded as “critical”. Moreover, Hapag-Lloyd has reported that the wage conflict was “severely affecting dockers’ willingness to perform extra shifts and volunteer work, especially at weekends”.

A report from data and analytics company Russell Group suggests that the strike at Felixstowe could result in $800m of trade being disrupted. Its data predicts that, based on previous August trade flows at Felixstowe, UK apparel imports worth $82m and $32m of electronic components could be impacted by the strike.

“The disruption at Felixstowe spells more uncertainty for businesses, consumers and governments,” said Russell Group MD Suki Basi.

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