UK's biggest cargo port on strike amid cost-of-living woes

17:42, Sunday, 21 August, 2022
UK's biggest cargo port on strike amid cost-of-living woes

Some 2,000 staff at Britain's biggest container port walked out of their jobs for an 8-day strike on Sunday, as they demand better pay in the face of Britain's soaring cost-of-living crisis.

The Unite union behind the Felixstowe Port strike failed to reach an agreement with the parent company operating the port, Hutchison Ports. Workers went ahead instead with their strike, scheduled to last until August 29.

Almost half the container freight entering the UK goes in through Felixstowe in Suffolk, eastern England. A strike that surpasses one week could force the diversion of vessels to alternative ports in the UK, or in Europe.

"Strike action will cause huge disruption and will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK's supply chain, but this dispute is entirely of the company's own making," Bobby Morton, the Unite union's national officer for docks, said in a Unite statement announcing the strike earlier this month.

The 8-day strike comes as public transport workers on the rail and bus networks continue to execute highly disruptive strikes, to push for better pay, saying it's needed to counter rising inflation.

Why are Felixstowe workers striking?
     The Unite union has accused the Hutchison Ports operating company of prioritizing profits over fair pay.

"We're being told to accept a real terms pay cut whilst bosses and shareholders are taking record profits for themselves," said Sharon Graham, the union's secretary general, on Twitter.

Hutchison Ports had offered the workers what it described as a "fair" settlement deal; a 7% pay rise and a single payment of 500 British pounds (around €600 or $600).

It had at the time said that the port's trade union had accepted the deal. The said union represents some 500 staff who work in supervisor and engineering roles. That is separate from the Unite union, which mostly represents dock workers.

The latter refused the settlement deal, saying it was significantly lower than the current inflation rate in the country.

A Hutchison Ports spokesperson told Reuters that the port "regrets" the impact of the strike on UK supply chains.

The Felixstowe Port handles some 4 million containers annually, from around 2,000 ships.

It is the first strike at the port since 1989.

Transport, freight, soon the post, and the garbage
     This summer has seen several strikes in the UK, mostly in the field of transport. Workers have been struggling to make ends meet while inflation rises in a manner not seen in western economies in around 40 years. Meanwhile, politicians and employers around the world struggle with the risk of reinforcing and fueling this inflation with widespread pay rises.

On Saturday, only about one in five trains were working amid a rail strike which left some areas entirely unserved.

There was also strike action confined to the capital London on Thursday and Friday preceding the nationwide rail strike.

Further strikes in various industries, including postal workers, garbage collectors, lawyers and staff at telecommunications giant BT, are scheduled for later this month.

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