Flexistowe Port strike: why are staff striking at Suffolk container dock - what does it mean for supply chain?

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Workers at the UK’s biggest container port at Felixstowe have voted to launch an eight-day strike which could affect £675 million worth of trade

Workers have begun a strike at the Port of Felixstowe, a major UK import and export hub, that is set to last eight days, effectively closing down the port.

It is the first strike at the port since 1989 and comes after workers in several other economic sectors including rail, the Royal Mail, and telecommunications organised industrial action.

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1,900 port workers who are also members of Unite Union downed tools on Sunday 21 August in a move is expected to cause siginificant disruption to international trade.

Port workers including crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores voted overwhelmingly in favour (9-1) of the strike.

Felixstowe Port workers will launch an eight day strike this month Felixstowe Port workers will launch an eight day strike this month
Felixstowe Port workers will launch an eight day strike this month | Getty Images

What is the Port of Felixstowe?

The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk is the UK’s busiest container port and the eighth busiest in Europe.

It deals with 48 per cent of containerised trade in the UK and handles around 4 million containers a year from 2,000 ships - according to a 2014 report, £44.5 billion of goods were imported through Felixstowe.

The port handles good including:

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  • White goods such as fridges, freezers, and washing machines
  • Electrical items such as televisions and laptops
  • Food - tinned, bottled and frozen food and packaged drinks
  • Clothing, shoes and accessories
  • Toiletries
  • Furniture

Why are Felixstowe Port workers striking?

Port workers are striking in a dispute over pay as rising inflation has depressed workers wages amid a cost of living crisis.

Workers were offered an eight per cent pay rise but this was rejected by Unite, precipitating a strike.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Felixstowe docks is enormously profitable. The latest figures show that in 2020 it made £61 million in profits.

“Its parent company, CK Hutchison Holding Ltd, is so wealthy that, in the same year, it handed out £99 million to its shareholders.

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“So they can give Felixstowe workers a decent pay raise. It’s clear both companies have prioritised delivering multimillion-pound profits and dividends rather than paying their workers a decent wage.

“Unite is entirely focused on enhancing its members’ jobs, pay and conditions and it will be giving the workers at Felixstowe its complete support until this dispute is resolved and a decent pay increase is secured.”

The Port of Felixstowe deals with 4 million containers each yearThe Port of Felixstowe deals with 4 million containers each year
The Port of Felixstowe deals with 4 million containers each year | Getty Images

The Port of Felixstowe said in a statement: “The company is disappointed that Unite has not taken up our offer to call off the strike and come to the table for constructive discussions to find a resolution.

“We recognise these are difficult times but, in a slowing economy, we believe that the company’s offer, worth over 8% on average in the current year and closer to 10% for lower paid workers, is fair.

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“Unite has failed our employees by not consulting them on the offer and, as a result, they have been put in a position where they will lose pay by going on strike.

When are the Felixstowe Port strikes?

The strikes will take place throughout the eight day period from 21-29 August, with the port effectively grinding to a halt.

It has not yet been confirmed whether further strike action will take place in September.

How much disruption will the Felixstowe Port strike cause?

The strike is expected to have a significant impact on the UK supply chain because of the high amount of goods that the port is responsible for.

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Analysis by the Russell Group found that the strike could cause disruption to £675 million worth of trade.

However, the Port of Felixstowe company said that it was working to limit the effect that industrial action will have.

A port source said the strikes will be an “inconvenience not a catastrophe”, claiming that the supply chain was now used to disruption following the pandemic.

They added: “Disruption is the new normal. The supply chain has moved from ‘just in time to just in case’”.

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