Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Two of Britain’s largest ports are bracing for overlapping dockworker walkouts in coming weeks, threatening more disruption to the nation’s trade flows in a dispute over pay.
Rail unions are separately poised to revive stoppages on hold since the country began a period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with details likely to be announced next week after her funeral.
While strikes spurred by soaring inflation were interrupted by the monarch’s death last Thursday, action across numerous industries is set to resume in due course. The spate of walkouts will represent a major challenge for new Prime Minister Liz Truss, already battling the crisis around escalating energy bills.
A previously announced two-week strike at the Port of Liverpool will start Sept. 20, after engineering and port operatives rejected the latest pay offer from Peel Ports Ltd. at a meeting Monday evening. That’s a day later than originally planned, avoiding the date of the royal funeral.
In a separate ballot, workers at Felixstowe voted against a wage increase to be imposed by the UK arm of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., setting the stage for a new round of industrial action at Britain’s busiest container port. That walkout is set to take place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5, overlapping by a week with the Liverpool action, and follows a previous strike in late August.
Further rail strikes likely won’t come until October due to a requirement to give two weeks’ notice, though they could be timed to coincide with the end of the Conservative Party conference, which begins on Oct. 2 in Birmingham.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association and Aslef train drivers’ union last week called off walkouts planned for the next few days to respect the mourning period.
Around 115,000 Royal Mail Plc staff who ended a two-day strike early after the Queen’s death are due to take two days of action from Sept. 30, according to plans previously announced by the Communication Workers Union.
In the ports dispute, Unite said Liverpool dockers turned down a 7% wage increase and one-time payment of £750 ($875). Peel is urging the union to keep negotiating, saying a shutdown will be felt “for many months” at a time when container volumes are beginning to slide, according to a statement.
Unite members in Felixstowe voted by a margin of 82% to oppose a 7% raise and £500 bonus to be implemented by management, Bobby Morton, the labor group’s national officer, said by phone Monday.
In a statement on Hutchison’s website, the port said “the collective bargaining process has been exhausted and there is no prospect of agreement being reached with the union.”
The UK’s supply chains are growing increasingly fragile heading into the peak season for pre-Christmas shipping and a winter of soaring heating bills. Concurrent stoppages will temporarily staunch the movement of more than half of its container exports and imports.
In August, Felixstowe was hit by eight days of walkouts involving almost 2,000 staff, a shutdown that forced shipping lines to reroute cargo and alter delivery schedules. Unite is pressing for a raise of at least 10%.