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Strike Fears Grow for Britain’s Busiest Container Port

Port of Felixstowe workers and employers remain locked in a contract dispute that’s set to see another eight-day strike hit Britain’s largest container port beginning Sept. 27. 

Unite the Union confirmed the strike on Tuesday following a membership vote where 82 percent of workers refused to accept the port’s current contract offer.

The strike marks the second one following last month’s eight-day work stoppage. 

Unite alleges the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company’s decision to not change its wage offer essentially “ended pay talks.” 

The port’s offer stands at a 7 percent increase, plus 500 pounds ($575.81), retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. 

The union, meanwhile, is calling for a wage increase more in line with real inflation, which it cited as 12.3 percent. 

“We are very disappointed that Unite has announced this further strike action at this time,” the port said. “The collective bargaining process has been exhausted and there is no prospect of agreement being reached with the union.” 

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Unite represents 1,900 workers at the port. 

“Rather than seeking to negotiate a deal to resolve the dispute, the company instead tried to impose a pay deal,” Unite national officer for docks Bobby Morton said in a statement Tuesday. “Further strike action will inevitably lead to delays and disruption to the U.K.’s supply chain, but this is entirely of the company’s own making.” 

The Port of Felixstowe moves more than 4 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually and handles about 48 percent of U.K. container traffic. 

The strike planned for later this month is expected to end Oct. 5 and will overlap with one set to take place at the Port of Liverpool, also involving workers represented by Unite, that’s set to run Sept. 19-Oct. 3. 

The Port of Liverpool walkout is expected to include more than 560 workers, who have also been unable to reach an agreement over compensation with the Peel Ports Group. 

Peel Ports said it is offering workers a total compensation package of 8.3 percent, which workers rejected. 

Peel Ports chief operating officer David Huck expressed disappointment about the confirmed Liverpool strike and said it would be “bad news” for shipping. 

“Whilst we fully appreciate our colleagues’ concerns on the rising cost of living, we have proposed an industry leading pay package of 8.3 percent,” Huck said earlier this month, following the confirmed strike. “This is all in addition to a 4.5 percent increase in 2021, with improvements to shifts, sick pay and pensions, and following continuous and above average pay awards over the last ten years.” 

The union has raised the possibility of more planned strikes in the event Liverpool is unable to reach a deal with the port operator.  

Huck went on to say the increase is above the national average, pointing out the industry has had to contend with “stagnation in the container market, worldwide economic pressures, the conflict in Ukraine and global shipping disruption.” 

The unrest overseas comes as U.S. railroads prepare for a possible strike as early as Friday as negotiations continue with unions. 

The multi-year contract talks involving carriers and a dozen unions is nearing the end of the collective bargaining process outlined under the Railway Labor Act. The majority of the unions have struck tentative agreements with the railroads, but all 12 must reach an agreement before the cooling off period ends Sept. 16. At that point unions or employers can engage in a strike or lockout. 

Railroads began warning customers late last week about temporary embargoes on shipments involving dangerous goods and time-sensitive product. 

Norfolk Southern said Tuesday it will close intermodal gate traffic beginning Wednesday. BNSF Railways said temperature-controlled cargo shipments will be embargoed beginning Wednesday.