Dock workers gathered at a picket line at the UK’s largest port today as they commenced their first of eight days of planned strike action.
Around 1,900 members of Unite at Felixstowe began their walk out today in a dispute over pay. It is the first strike to hit the port since 1989.
The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company offered a seven per cent pay increase, but the union rejected the deal because it was below the rate of inflation.
The union argued that both Felixstowe docks and parent company CK Hutchison were both profitable and wealthy enough to be able to stump up the cash for a pay increase that was in line with inflation.
“Let’s be very clear. Felixstowe Docks is hugely profitable. Together with its company CK Hutchison they can and must give workers a decent pay rise,” Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said on Twitter.
Unite national officer Robert Morton told BBC breakfast today that firms should not blame the union and instead contact CK Hutchison and urge them to return to the negotiating table.
“I would urge those companies to get in touch with the port employer and try to move them. That way the supply chain will be opened up and everyone will be happy,” Morton said.
Shipping giant Maersk, along with other port and trade bodies, warned of disruption ahead of the strike, and said they were planning appropriate contingencies.
Tim Morris, chief executive of trade association UK Major Ports Group, told Times Radio today that the strike action was “very unwelcome,” but said it will be interesting to see whether the strike translates into being “an inconvenience or actually more significant disruption.”
“There is a certain amount of preparation that’s gone on ahead of what’s happening, and also supply chains have gotten a lot more flexible and adaptable over the last two years,” Morris said.
While supply chain players, such as warehouse operators, will be impacted, it is possible that consumers “will see little impact,” he added. “We [will] wait to see what happens over the next couple of days.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Ports are well-accustomed to shutting for a number of days at a time due to bad weather or high winds and are well equipped to mitigate any disruption, with resilient supply chains in place.”
The department said it will monitor the situation while urging the union to call off the strike action, and look to reach a settlement with the company.
Late Friday, the Port of Felixstowe staff union, another Unite branch that represents about 500 employees in supervisory roles, engineering and clerical positions, agreed to the pay offer on the table.
“We recognise these are difficult times but, in a slowing economy, we believe that the company’s offer, worth over 8 per cent on average in the current year and closer to 10 per cent for lower paid workers, is fair,” the Port of Felixstowe said in its latest statement.
“Unite has failed our employees by not consulting them on the offer and, as a result, they have been put in a position where they will lose pay by going on strike,” it added.