Port of Liverpool Credit Peel Ports

A second port in the UK, Liverpool, could grind to a halt following a dockers’ vote to strike. Felixstowe stevedores are expected to begin an eight-day strike on 21 August.

The Liverpool and Felixstowe dockers are members of the Unite union, and a ballot of port engineer members is also under way and set to close on 24 August.

Unite said: “More than 500 port operatives will strike over an inadequate 7% pay offer,” calling it “a real-terms pay cut”.

The ballot of union members at Liverpool saw 99% vote in favour of a strike, on an 88% turnout.

Mersey Dock and Harbour Company, the Peel Ports subsidiary that runs Liverpool Port,  made a £30m ($36.23m) profit last year.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “What’s happening at MDHC is another example of why workers in this country have had enough. Once again, a profitable company controlled by a tax-exiled billionaire is refusing to give its workers a cost-of-living pay rise.

“Our members at MDHC have Unite’s complete backing and support in these strikes for a fair pay rise.”

Peel Ports’ majority shareholder is UK tycoon John Whittaker, who, Unite claims, has amassed a £1.4bn fortune and, like his company, is based in the Isle of Man. Investment fund Australian Super is the group’s second largest investor, said the union.

Richard Mitchell, port director Liverpool containers at Peel Ports Group, said: “We fully appreciate our colleagues’ concerns on the rising cost of living. Our offer of 7% is on top of a rise of 4.5% last year and includes other improvements to shifts, sick pay and pensions, which further complements a decade of industry-leading pay awards.

“We’ve recruited an additional 150 staff for Liverpool container operations over the past 12 months, investing significantly in training and safety, and today Peel Ports’ port operatives earn about 20% more than the Liverpool city region average.”

Peel Ports pointed to significant worker unrest “sweeping the nation” which has been caused by “factors beyond the control of individual businesses or even sectors”.

Mr Mitchell urged the union to keep talking with Peel Ports and MDHC.

“Together we can find a resolution to avoid action that will be bad news for the sector, businesses and families, with the effects being felt for many months to come, at a time when container volume demand has started to reduce.”

Peel Ports says it has offered:

  • a 7% increase to basic pay and an increase to the night work allowance to £30 a week. “Our proposals would mean a combined pay increase of between 16% and 25% over the last three years, subject to different roles within the port, which include individual pay progression rates, a 3% rise in 2020 and a further 4.5% pay rise in 2021”;
  • improved terms and conditions over the past four years across shift patterns, sick pay, pension contributions and other benefits, bringing 600 port operatives on a par with all other employees after they were transferred from their former agency employers in 2018.

The 500 Unite dockers in Liverpool are expected be joined by 60 maintenance engineers at the port after the ballot now taking place. Another 1,900 Unite members at the port of Felixstowe are expected to strike following the breakdown of negotiations and arbitration last week.

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