Liverpool docks strike: Unite dockers begin two-week strike with support from Jamie Carragher and Stephen Graham

Unite has criticised the firm which has a majority stake in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, Peel Group, and ‘tax-exlied billionaire’ John Whittaker

More than 500 dock workers are set to begin two weeks of strike action today (20 September) in a dispute over pay and conditions which has attracted a number of high-profile supporters.

Dockers at the Port of Liverpool rejected an offer put forward by the operator, Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) amid claims the company also failed to honour an agreement made last year.

Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite which represents the workers, has criticised the firm and its “tax-exiled billionaire” owner, and urged MDHC to “table a reasonable offer”.

Former Liverpool star Jamie Carragher, award-winning actor Stephen Graham and Team GB Olympian Natasha Jonas have all expressed their support for the striking workers.

An MDHC boss has said the firm recognises workers’ concerns on the cost of living crisis and is “deeply disappointed” that the latest offer has been rejected.

This follows strike action by Unite members at the UK’s largest port, Felixstowe, in a similar dispute over pay and working conditions.

Workers reject MDHC’s offer

Workers at Liverpool docks will walk out today after rejecting a pay offer worth 7% plus a one-off payment, according to Unite.

Port of Liverpool is one of the UK’s largest container ports, and the two-week strike is expected to cause significant disruption both locally and to the wider supply chain.

The company says its offer is worth between 8.3% and 10%, and is comprised of a 7% increase in the basic rate of pay, plus a £750 one-off payment and a “1.3% increase from pay rates and allowances”.

Unite has disputed this analysis of the offer, arguing that the 7% increase in the rate of pay represents a real-terms pay cut due to the high rate of inflation, and arguing the company can afford to offer more.

Workers are also frustrated at what they say is the company’s failure to honour an agreement made last year, which included a commitment to a pay review.

Unite lead officer for freeports, Steven Gerrard, said: “MDHC has refused to honour 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.

“MDHC needs to deliver on the agreements it made in 2021 as well as tabling an offer our members can accept for 2022.”

Unite has criticised Peel Ports Group, which owns MDHC, as it is majority owned by John Whittaker, a billionaire who is based in the Isle of Man tax haven.

According to accounts filings for MDHC made up to 31 March 2021, the company made £41.5m in profit last year, up from £22.6m the previous year.

Peel Ports Group paid its highest paid director £4.5m in 2021 according to accounts filings, up from £1.6m the previous year.

Graham, who as Unite general secretary has spoken out against profiteering among UK firms during the cost of living crisis, has been heavily involved in the dispute.

“MDHC is controlled by a tax-exiled billionaire and can well afford to pay these workers a proper pay rise,” she said.

“Workers across the country are sick to death of being told to take a hit on their wages and living standards while employer after employer is guilty of rampant profiteering. MDHC needs to think again, table a reasonable offer and fulfil its previous pay promises.”

David Huck, MDHC chief operating officer, said: “I am deeply disappointed Unite has rejected our significant pay package after many months of negotiation. This is bad news for our employees, families and other local employers.

“We fully recognise our colleagues’ concerns on the cost of living crisis, and that’s why we have responded with a pay package which represents a 10% average increase in annual pay.

“We urge the union to work with us at the negotiating table so together we can find a resolution.”

‘Keep going’

Jamie Carragher is among the celebrities to have voiced support for the dockers ahead of the strike, which is due to continue until 3 October.

In a video message, the former England international said he is “fully behind” the workers.

“You’ve got my support and backing,“ he said, “you fully deserve everything that you’re fighting for, keep going.”

Stephen Graham, best known for his role in This Is England, and professional boxer Natasha Jonas, also recorded messages of support ahead of the dispute.

Workers are set to be joined on the picket lines by members of global transport unions International Transport Workers Federation and European Transport Workers Federation.

Paddy Crumlin, ITF President and Dockers’ Section Chair, said: “In the face of soaring inflation in the United Kingdom, with some economists predicting that the rate of inflation will rise to 20 percent by January, the Liverpool dockers’ pay demands are measured and reasonable.

“As the cost of essentials like food, energy and petrol continue to rise to astronomical levels, we are seeing employer after employer gouge profits at the expense of workers’ livelihoods and living standards. Working people have had enough – and that why 560 Liverpool dockers have walked out the gate on strike.

“Senior management should be offering a deal that reflects the dangerous and vital work dockers do, an offer that doesn’t financially hammer them during a cost of living crisis.”

“Fair pay for a fair day’s work is all that’s being asked, and MDHC can afford to show they appreciate their workforce at the pay packet.”