The ongoing dispute between the union representing dockworkers and the UK’s major ports will shift to Liverpool with Unite the Union scheduling a strike at the port for the last two weeks of September. While only about a fourth of the size of Felixstowe, the strike is still expected to place further strains on the supply chain and may also be a harbinger of additional disruptions targeting Felixstowe in the coming weeks.
The contract dispute mostly centers on the union’s demands for pay increases that keep pace with the current 12 percent rate of retail inflation in the UK. While the ports are offering significant increases of between 7 and 9 percent, Unite continues to say that represents an effective pay cut due to inflation. The strikes at the ports are only part of a larger union effort across the UK demanding pay increases that keep pace with inflation as well as improved working conditions.
“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,” said David Huck, Chief Operating Officer at Peel Ports Group, operator of the Liverpool port. “Our pay offer is well above the national average and represents a sustainable position for the business, taking into account stagnation in the container market, worldwide economic pressures, the conflict in Ukraine, and global shipping disruption.”
Peel Ports highlights that it agreed to a 4.5 percent increase in 2021 and has recruited an additional 150 staff for Port of Liverpool container operations over the last 12 months. It has also invested in training and safety, improved terms and conditions over the last four years across shift patterns, sick pay, pension contributions, and other benefits. They also noted investments into the port that handles more than 75,000 TEU and more than 60 vessels each month creating more work for the union members.
Despite these steps, Unite says that its more than 500 members will begin their strike at the Port of Liverpool on September 19 continuing to October 3. In August, union members authorized a strike which Unite says is in response to the offered 7 percent increase as well as the failure of the port operator to honor the 2021 pay agreement, including not undertaking a promised pay review and failing to deliver on an agreement to improve shift rotas.
Unite lead officer for freeports, Steven Gerrard, said in a statement that the port operator “has refused to honor the previous pay pledges it made to our members and is refusing to put forward an acceptable pay rise now. It has no one else to blame for the disruption that will be caused.” He called on the port operator to “deliver on the agreements it made in 2021 as well as tabling an offer our members can accept for 2022.”
The union appears to be emboldened by some of its other recent successes and is saying that it will consider additional actions at both Liverpool and Felixstowe if the port operators do not return to the negotiations with an open mind and better offers. Unite recently won a two-year package from ferry operator Red Funnel which it says amounts to increases of approximately 13 to 18 percent, up to 14 percent from an auto assembly contractor working with Ford, and even 8 to 11 percent for municipal workers. These are the latest in a summer of strikes across the UK ranging from bus drivers and train operators to nurses and trash collectors.