felixstoweAlmost 2,000 dock workers at Britain’s biggest container ship port plan to strike for eight days later this month after failing to reach a pay deal, threatening to sever one of the UK’s most important trade routes.
Workers at Felixstowe will strike from Aug. 21 to 29, the Unite union said in a statement Friday. Talks failed after the port, owned by a unit of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., did not improve its offer of a 7% pay increase, the labor group said.
Felixstowe, northeast of London, is a key hub for imports as well as some exports from the UK, and accounts for nearly half the country’s container trade. The strikes will have a “huge effect” on supply chains and cause severe disruption to international maritime trade, according to the union, which is vowing a full shutdown of the port.
If the strikes go ahead, they’ll worsen what’s been called the UK’s summer of discontent, which has already seen railway workers walk out on multiple occasions, with airports and airlines reeling from staffing shortages and labor woes, resulting in mass cancellations of flights.
A shortage of truck drivers and global shipping logjams last year caused supply-chain disruptions at Felixstowe ahead of the busy Christmas shopping season, with some container ships diverted to other ports. A shutdown of the UK port due to strikes could have a knock-on effect for other European harbors as ships get rerouted.
Hutchison Ports UK said it was seeking a solution “that works for all parties” and that discussions were ongoing, with another meeting with the union scheduled for Aug. 8.
“The port has not had a strike since 1989 and we are disappointed that the union has served notice of industrial action while talks are ongoing,” a Hutchison spokesperson said in an email. “We understand our employees’ concerns at the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help whilst continuing to invest in the port’s success.”
Almost 2,000 ships call at Felixstowe annually, with the port handling the equivalent of over 4 million containers a year, according to its website.
The UK is especially vulnerable to disruptions at container ports like Felixstowe as well as ferry services across the English Channel because it imports close to half of the food it consumes.