Traders could face logistics challenges due to overlapping strikes at two of the UK’s most important ports, after fresh strikes were announced at the Port of Felixstowe.
Workers at Felixstowe – the UK’s largest container port – will strike for eight days from 27 September until 5 October, reports Sky News.
This strike partly coincides with industrial action at the Port of Liverpool, taking place from 19 September to 3 October.
Felixstowe dockers previously went on strike for eight days from 21 August in pursuit of a pay deal that was closer to inflation - at the time 12.3% - than the offer from the port’s management.
The action ended without an agreement being reached between workers and management.
East Anglian Daily Times reports that the union Unite, which represents workers at both ports, had put an offer from management of 7% plus a £500 bonus to their members over the last few days, but 82% voted to reject it Unite is seeking a rise of 10%.
The crossover with action at Liverpool is a major cause of concern for traders, with cargo ships potentially being redirected to other ports or back to Europe.
An anonymous Suffolk shipping expert told East Anglian Daily Times that: “At a time when all of us are facing further financial pressure, the wider impact on associated industries and business in general is unnecessarily damaging.”
Supply chain website The Loadstar reports concerns that further action could see UK ports relegated to the status of feeder routes. “Short-term, it may not be a big issue but longer-term it will tarnish UK PLC, especially with the overlap at Liverpool,” an industry insider said.
Carriers had already started to notify customers of the need to prepare contingencies for the Liverpool strikes, re-routing goods through other UK gateways, but the additional strikes at Felixstowe are causing concerns that ports such as London Gateway and Southampton may be overwhelmed.
Simon Geale, of supply chain specialists Proxima, warned in the Standard that continuing unrest at Felixstowe, which handles almost half of UK container traffic, could cause “serious disruption” with Christmas deliveries arriving.
Union and port response
Unite national officer Bobby Morton told Reuters that port operator CK Hutchison would have to shoulder the blame.
“Further strike action will inevitably lead to delays and disruption to the UK’s supply chain but this is entirely of the company's own making,” he said.
According to a statement on its website, the Port of Felixstowe said: "We are very disappointed that Unite has announced this further strike action at this time.”