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

Negotiators from the port of Felixstowe and the Unite union will meet at conciliation service ACAS today in a last-ditch attempt to agree a wage deal and prevent an eight-day strike starting on 21 August.

Over 1,900 workers at the UK’s biggest container port voted overwhelmingly to take strike action after the Hutchison-owned employer declined to improve its wage increase offer at ACAS on Thursday.

Ocean carriers serving the port are adopting a “wait and see” strategy, but may have few options available to overcarry UK imports, given that other North European hubs remain congested.

One Felixstowe-based carrier’s operations manager told The Loadstar today he still hoped a deal could be reached.

“Most of the dockers I speak to don’t want to strike, it’s not in their DNA. But the port needs to be sensible and come down from the normal arrogant high-handed manner, or we could see a lengthy dispute,” he said.

“We are talking to our partners about possibly changing rotations to avoid the strike, but unless it is a protracted stoppage, we might just have to sit outside and wait it out,” he added.

Carriers’ ability to revise port rotations may, however, be limited. The court moratorium on strikes at German ports will end on 26 August and, with both sides appearing to be as far apart as ever on a new inflation-beating wage agreement, more stoppages are possible. This would increase yard density and restrict landside and ship working operations.

Maersk has advised customers it expects “disruption to continue through August and September” at its Hamburg terminals.

Meanwhile, Port of Felixstowe said it “continued to actively seek a solution that works for all parties and avoids this industrial action”.

It added: “We understand our employees’ concerns at the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help whilst continuing to invest in the port’s success.”

And the port operator suggested it could be prepared to improve its offer, explaining: “Discussions are ongoing and the company’s latest position in negotiations is an enhanced pay increase of 7%.”

Arguing that “there will be no winners from industrial action”, the port said it was “disappointed” that the union had served notice of industrial action while negotiations were ongoing, noting that there had not been a strike at the port since 1989.

Unite said the wage offer had been “fairly far away” from its demands and was an effective pay cut, given the current retail price index reading of 11.9%.

General secretary Sharon Graham said the port and its parent were “both massively profitable and incredibly wealthy” and “fully able to pay the workforce a fair day’s pay”.

She added: “The company has prioritised delivering multi-million-pound dividends rather than paying its workers a decent wage.”

Predicting that a strike would cause “huge disruption” and “generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain”, Unite national officer for docks Bobby Morton urged: “Felixstowe needs to stop prevaricating and make a pay offer which meets our members’ expectations.”

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