Union negotiators representing dock workers at Felixstowe, Britain’s largest container port, will meet employers in the coming days to try to avoid a damaging strike.
The Unite union reported that a 5 percent pay raise was turned down by 92 percent of workers in favor of a strike, with those who voted saying they are angry the offer would mean a pay cut in real terms.
Inflation, driven by soaring energy prices, staff shortages and logistics disruption caused by Brexit, is estimated to be running at 9.4 percent and could peak at 12 percent in the UK.
Andrew Kuyk, director general of the UK Seafood Industry Alliance, which represents the UK's largest processors, said Felixstowe is "absolutely a big port for seafood and other foods" and specifically for frozen fish shipments coming from places such as China.
Felixstowe, which handles 45,000 containers per week, already experienced a number of problems at the beginning of the year.
However, the impact of a short strike would be less damaging for frozen seafood than for some other food sectors, because "by and large, the product would have a reasonable shelf life," said Kuyk.
The impact of a short strike would be less damaging for frozen seafood than for some other food sectors, because "by and large, the product would have a reasonable shelf life," said Kuyk.
While an extra two or three days delay would be a disruption, it most likely would not result in thousands of pounds worth of goods being written off, he said.
Simon Dwyer, the owner of Grimsby-based Seafox Management Consultants, told IntraFish the potential strike should not impact Grimsby seafood processors much, as the vast majority of their imports come in to the Port of Immingham on the Humber.
A lot of overseas imports destined for Grimsby are discharged mainly in Rotterdam, and then brought over to Immingham by feeder vessels, he said.
The threat of port strikes comes amid general disgruntlement among workers suffering from the soaring cost of living crisis.
Strikes by train drivers and other rail workers across the country have brought many services to a standstill.
There is also speculation that doctors, civil servants and teachers may be considering strikes— and even calls for a general strike.
This is not just a British phenomenon. German ports, including Hamburg and Bremerhaven, have been hit by a wave of strikes that have caused congestion at docks.
German labor union Ver.di argues that the Central Association of German Seaport Companies should be building in an annual inflation adjustment system to help staff with a cost of living crisis at 58 ports and terminals.
“These port companies plan to leave their staff alone to deal with the consequences of rising prices. They are willing to see dockers’ wages go backward, eaten away by inflation,” said Maya Schwiegershausen-Guth, head of Ver.di’s maritime section.
“We cannot accept this, especially after all that dock workers have done for the employers and the common good.”
German port employers said they have already put in a generous final offer that they described as the equivalent of a 12.5 percent pay increase, which is all they can do to bring the strikes to an end.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is a major exporter of cars and auto parts, machinery and chemical products.
The German and British disruption coming ahead of the global liner season’s busiest period could drive up freight rates again if full and empty containers become marooned at docks.
Dock workers say their pay is stagnating while corporate financial results rise. German port operator Hamburger Hafen und Logistik reported a 164 percent increase in net profits to $115 million (€113 million) last year.
Felixstowe Dock & Railway Co, owned by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings, made pre-tax profits of £61 million (€72 million/$74 million) in 2020 and paid out £99 million (€118 million/$121 million) in dividends.
These figures pale in significance to what liner companies are making.
AP Moller-Maersk said this week it expects to earn EBITDA profits of $37 billion (€36.4 billion) for 2022, even though spot charter rates have fallen recently.
Some liner staff have been given bonuses, but a lucky executive such as shipbroking boss Andi Case at Clarksons has seen his remuneration package double year on year to $8.85 million (€8.7 million).
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden recently dropped into negotiations between employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union to try to stop strikes at Los Angeles, Oakland and other ports on the west coast.
More than 200 independent truck drivers disrupted the Port of Los Angeles on July 18 for a second time, protesting against the planned introduction of a “gig worker law," which they say endangers their business.
South Korean truckers have been on strike and disrupted port shipments in recent weeks, arguing over pay and conditions. Contract workers withdrew their labor for more than a month at Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering before settling for a 4.5 percent pay rise.
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