Almost 2,000 workers have walked out of their jobs at the UK’s largest container port on the first day of an eight-day workers strike, in the latest round of industrial action hitting various sectors of the economy.
About 1,900 members of Unite, including crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores, will take part in the first strike to disrupt the port since 1989, following a more than nine-one vote in favour.
The union has warned the stoppage at the port, which handles almost half the container freight entering the country, will have a significant impact on UK supply chains and the logistics and haulage sectors.
But a port source downplayed the warning, telling the PA news agency the strikes will be an “inconvenience not a catastrophe”.
The supply chain is used to disruption following the pandemic, he claimed.
“Disruption is the new normal. The supply chain has moved from ‘just in time to just in case’,” he added.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said Felixstowe docks is “enormously profitable”.
“The latest figures show that in 2020 it made £61m in profits,” she said.
“Its parent company, CK Hutchison Holding Ltd, is so wealthy that, in the same year, it handed out £99m to its shareholders.
“So they can give Felixstowe workers a decent pay raise,” she argued.
The Port of Felixstowe said it was “disappointed” Unite had not “come to the table for constructive discussions to find a resolution”.
“We recognise these are difficult times but… we believe that the company’s offer, worth over 8% on average… is fair,” it said in a statement.
“The port regrets the impact this action will have on UK supply chains… there will be no winners from this unnecessary industrial action,” it added.
According to the company, the Port of Felixstowe staff union, representing approximately 500 positions, voted to accept the same pay offer Unite had refused to put to its members.