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UK Port Workers Could Be Next to Strike

A dispute over dockworker pay in Liverpool could result in a strike if members of the Unite union vote in favor of a work stoppage.

Threat of a possible strike action came after the two sides were unable to reach a deal on pay and benefits, with the union taking the matter of a work stoppage to its members for a vote that opens next Monday and runs through Aug. 15. If enough members vote in favor of a stoppage, a strike could come as early as the end of August.

“Strike action will inevitably severely affect shipping and road transport as well as creating shortages in supply chains, but this dispute is entirely of Peel Ports’ own making,” Unite regional officer Steven Gerrard said in a statement. “Unite has held extensive negotiations with the company, but it has refused to address members’ concerns.”

The contract involves more than 500 workers who are employed by MDHC Container Services, which is part of the Peel Ports Group. The group is comprised of the ports of Clydeport, Dublin, Great Yarmouth, Heysham, Liverpool and London Medway, along with the Manchester Ship Canal waterway.

The dispute was set off by a 7 percent pay increase offered to workers. Unite said the bump is not consistent with the real inflation rate of 11.7 percent. The union also said the two sides have yet to agree on shift schedules, bonuses and temporary worker pay, which last saw an increase in 2018.

Peel Ports sees it differently, saying the 7 percent increase to base pay, along with a 30 pound ($35.91) weekly night allowance, represents a “significant offer.” Ultimately, pay has increased in the range of 16 percent to 25 percent in the past three years, the port said in a statement provided to Sourcing Journal Tuesday. The port also said shift schedules have been “significantly enhanced,” along with sick pay and pension contributions among other benefits.

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Richard Mitchell, port director of Liverpool Containers at Peel Ports Group, called the strike possibility “extremely disappointing.”

“These rates of pay exceed industry standards and take into account the current economic climate,” Mitchell said. “It is therefore extremely disheartening to receive threats of industrial action, especially when the entire industry is experiencing volume stagnation due to the ongoing issues with COVID in Asia, the conflict in Ukraine and global shipping disruption.”

Mitchell went on to say any supply chain impact would be “extremely bad news” and would hold lasting implications for “many months.”

Labor disruptions, or the threat of them, across all modes of transportation have been the cause of angst among some shippers amid existing congestion issues.

Port congestion in Germany, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe continue. A 48-hour strike resulting from a contract dispute between Ver.di union workers and employers ended Saturday morning, with the work stoppage impacting cargo operations in Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven.

Stateside, the White House has intervened in contract negotiations for some 115,000 rail workers who could have gone on strike as early as Monday if President Biden had not established a Presidential Emergency Board last week to investigate the contract dispute.

In maritime, the contract for some 22,000 West Coast dockworkers is in the midst of being negotiated, with some industry watchers generally upbeat on a deal being struck.

Meanwhile, on the land side, non-union truckers in California have been protesting the state’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which employs a three-prong test in classifying workers as either employees or independent contractors. A number of truckers have pushed back against AB5 because they want to remain independent.

Demonstrations against AB5 began last week among ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach truck drivers and moved to the Port of Oakland Monday. The protest there was originally expected to end Wednesday, although it’s being reported some protestors may extend the demonstration through the week. On Wednesday, the protests led to the closure of Oakland’s TraPac and Oakland International Container terminals, in addition to stopping truck gate operations at the remaining three terminals.