More than 1,900 workers at Felixstowe Dock, the UK’s largest shipping container port, are preparing to begin an eight-day strike later this month in a dispute over pay, with the hospitality industry likely to feel the side effects of resulting supply chain problems.
The port workers, who are members of UK trade union Unite, will begin eight days of strike action on August 21 and ending on Monday 29 August, in a development that looks set to cause widespread disruption for the UK’s supply chain, with about 48 per cent of containers brought into the UK being transported via the port.
Talks at conciliation service Acas last Thursday failed to reach a “satisfactory conclusion” after the port workers’ turned down an offer by their employer, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, for a seven per cent pay increase, with Unite stating this was significantly below the real (RPI) inflation rate of 11.8 per cent.
The union claimed industrial relations were already strained as workers only received a 1.4 per cent, below inflation, pay increase last year.
Bobby Morton, Unite’s national officer for docks, said: “Strike action will cause huge disruption and will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain, but this dispute is entirely of the company’s own making. It has had every opportunity make our members a fair offer but has chosen not to do so.
“Felixstowe needs to stop prevaricating and make a pay offer which meets our members’ expectations.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Both Felixstowe docks and its parent company CK Hutchison Holding Ltd are both massively profitable and incredibly wealthy. They are fully able to pay the workforce a fair day’s pay.
“The company has prioritised delivering multi-million pound dividends rather than paying its workers a decent wage.”
Strike action at the port would “cause severe disruption to international maritime trade, as well as the UK’s supply chain including the logistics and haulage sectors”, the union said.
The supply chain of food and drinks, as well as foodservice equipment and machinery, could feel the effects and delays likely to result from such strike action at the port.
Workers at the site undertake all forms of manual roles, including driving cranes, machine operation, and loading and unloading ships.
Commenting on the planned strike action, Jason Webb, managing director of Electronic Temperature Instruments (ETI), a digital thermometer manufacturer producing food temperature monitors and handheld thermometers for the catering industry, said: “We are jumping from one major piece of disruption to the next, and it was always going to take supply chains years to recover from the repercussions of Covid alone. Disruption is common and has been there for many years. However, disruption was always limited to a small percentage of products in our range.
“What we are seeing now is that most of our products are being disrupted by catastrophes. The UK has always been an exporting powerhouse. But we can’t be under any illusions that the past two-years has presented a host of obstacles and problems. It is taking significantly more time to do things which means we have had to throw extra resources to address shipping issues that previously weren’t a problem.
“Temperature control is vital for keeping produce fresh but if they get stuck in transit for too long, then the food won’t be held at the right temperature and it will spoil much quicker. To put it simply, there is a time limit on its quality. Everything is against the clock when it comes to delivering food items. These potential delays will demonstrate the challenges of keeping refrigeration temperatures steady during transit and highlight the vital role that data loggers play in the process.”
Unite workers at the port recorded a 92 per cent vote for industrial action on an 81 per cent turnout.
A Felixstowe company spokesperson said it was disappointed that the union had served notice that it would take industrial action “while talks were ongoing”, with the port not seeing strike action since 1989.
Further talks are planned to take place at Acas today (August 8).
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This action by the union runs the risk of disrupting the delivery of vital supplies and freight, and we urge the union and Port to remain at the table and agree a settlement.”
A separate RMT walkout by workers on the London Underground and Overground network is also being planned for August 19, and more than 1,600 drivers within the London bus network have also announced plans to take strike action on August 19 and 20.