Workers at the UK’s most important port vote for strike action

Workers at a critically important UK container port have voted to go on strike in a dispute over pay.

The union Unite said 92% of its members at the Port of Felixstowe, the UK’s busiest and Europe’s eighth busiest container port, voted in favour of strike action. There was an 81% turnout.

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company was offering a pay increase of 5%, which was effectively a real-terms pay cut, said Unite, which added that the port authority was very wealthy and more interested in shareholders than employees.

Port spokesman Paul Davey said: “Both parties are still talking and we hope to avoid any industrial action.”

He added: “The company made what we believe to be a very fair offer and we are disappointed with the result of the ballot.”

About 1,800 Unite members at the port voted in the ballot – almost equal to the total number of manual staff there.

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Unite pointed out that last year the workers received a below inflation pay increase of 1.4%. It stated: “The dispute is a result of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company offering a pay increase of just 5% to its workers. This is an effective pay cut with the real (RPI) rate of inflation currently standing at 11.9%.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The bottom line is this is an extremely wealthy company that can fully afford to give its workers a pay rise. Instead it chose to give bonanza payouts to shareholders touching £100m.”

Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said: “Strike action at Felixstowe will inevitably create huge disruption across the UK’s supply chain. This dispute is of Felixstowe’s own making.

Strike dates have yet to be announced, he said, adding that the dispute could be resolved by the company returning to negotiations and making a realistic offer.

“When about 1,800 dockers speak in that manner, you’ve got to listen,” said Hubbard.

The Port of Felixstowe is the UK’s biggest container port, handling 48% of container trade.

Southampton is the second most important port in the UK and is also being affected by industrial unrest with Isle of Wight ferry staff working for Red Funnel embarking on a series of 24-hour strikes on crossings between the city and the Isle of Wight this month.

Unite said the staff were unhappy with a 4.5% pay offer and had no choice but to go on strike.

Red Funnel and South Western Railway staff joined forces on picket lines in recent days.

Liverpool docks are also seeing discord over a 7% pay offer and unpaid bonuses, with Unite saying more than 500 dock workers have been asked to vote on strike action.

Earlier this year P&O Ferries workers were subject to mass redundancy and replacement by agency staff, after its owner DP World, decided to slash costs. The agency staff operate on below UK national minimum wage marine wages.

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