A former Conservative minister is paid more than £270 per hour as an adviser to the firm which owns Felixstowe Port, where workers are currently on strike after their request for a real-terms pay rise was rejected.
Chris Grayling, who served as Transport minister under Theresa May, took the job advising Hutchison Ports Europe in September 2020.
Around 1,900 dockers are part way through an eight-day strike, which could have an impact on supply chains.
Unite has said if the port can justify paying “a former minister who awarded a ferry contract to a company which had no ships, then surely it can fully afford to pay its workers a 10% increase”.
Former transport minister earns £100k per year for ‘around 7 hours per week’
Hutchison Ports, which operates Felixstowe and a number of other large UK ports, hired Chris Grayling in September 2020 as a strategic adviser.
Since then, he has been paid £100,000 per year for “around 7 hours per week,” according to the register of members’ financial interests. This equates to £270-per-hour.
The latest entry in the register states that the role is set to end on 31 August 2022, though it was originally listed as ending in August 2021 before being extended a year.
Chris Grayling and Hutchison Ports have declined to comment on whether the role is set to be extended.
As a former frontbencher, whose role as Transport minister gave him access to privileged information which could have been seen to benefit his new employer, Grayling was forced to refer his role to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA).
The committee ruled that Grayling could take up the role, on the condition that he should not “draw on… any privileged information available”.
It also imposed a two-year ban on lobbying the UK government on behalf of Hutchison, starting from when he left ministerial office in July 2019.
A Unite spokesperson said: “Felixstowe and Hutchison Ports’ priorities are demonstrated by the huge salary it has awarded to the former government minister, Chris Grayling. Such were his serial blunderings as a government minister that he was dubbed ‘Failing Grayling’.
“If Felixstowe can justify paying £100k a year for seven hours a week to a former minister who awarded a ferry contract to a company which had no ships, then surely it can fully afford to pay its workers a 10 per cent increase.”
Unite workers at the UK’s largest port are now halfway through a planned eight days of strike action in a dispute over pay.
More than 1,900 workers are involved in the strike action, which began on 21 August after negotiations between Unite and Felixstowe failed to result in an offer which the union thought was acceptable.
The latest rejected offer of 8% is still less than inflation, which passed 10% by the CPI measure in July and is expected to rise higher.
The workers received a below inflation pay rise last year of 1.4%.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has previously said the port could provide workers with a real-terms pay increase, highlighting significant profits made in 2020 as well as large payouts to shareholders.
She said: “Felixstowe docks is enormously profitable. The latest figures show that in 2020 it made £61million in profits.
“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. It’s clear both companies have prioritised delivering multi million-pound profits and dividends rather than paying their workers a decent wage.”
The union has criticised the company, which is ultimately owned by a company headquartered in Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands and has paid out £198m in dividends since 2017.
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.
“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.”
Hutchison won £35m through government scheme which underfunded other ports
Questions were raised by Labour when Hutchison was revealed as one of the major beneficiaries of a government funding scheme to help UK ports build infrastructure needed to deal with post-Brexit import controls.
Most operators were left somewhat disappointed by the allocations from the £200 million funding pot, after submitting requests worth more than £450 million in total.
Of the 53 ports which submitted requests for funding, 12 received no funding whatsoever, while most received significantly less than they had bid for.
Harwich and Felixstowe, both owned by Hutchison, received £22.9m and £13.1m respectively, with only Killingholme (£23.1m) and Immingham (£13.5m) receiving similar amounts.
The port of Dover, which serves the busiest shipping lane in the world and has been hit by major delays post-Brexit, was only awarded £33,000 after requesting £33 million.
Speaking in the Commons in December 2020, Labour’s Rachel Reeves accused the government of “Tory cronyism” and “wasting millions of pounds on consultants and middlemen”.
She said: “Will the government publish the full rationale for each of their 53 port decisions?
“Not least since some companies received next to nothing and while one port company, which coincidentally pays a former Tory cabinet minister £100,000 a year, was awarded £26m yesterday by this government.”
NationalWorld contacted Chris Grayling and Hutchison Ports for comment on this article