Packaged food, clothing and electronics shipments at risk as workers vote to strike

The supply of packaged food, clothing and electronics threatens to be cut off after workers at Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, voted to strike over pay for the next consecutive month.

Members of the Unite union working in the port have supported industrial action with 92 per cent. The strike is due to take place next month, but no exact date has been set.

It is said to be the first strike in the major port in 30 years and if it lasts several days it could cause major logistical problems for ships and vehicles entering the port.

All kinds of household goods come through the port in shipping containers, from refrigerators, freezers and televisions to clothing, beverages and canned goods.

Many of the items on supermarket or shop shelves – which are not made in the UK – have a good chance of arriving in Felixstowe in a container. The port is responsible for 48 per cent of UK container trade.

Unite Regional Officer Miles Hubbard said: “Strike action in Felixstowe will inevitably cause huge disruption throughout the UK supply chain.

“This dispute is caused by Felixstowe himself. Strike dates have yet to be announced, but even at this late stage, the dispute could be resolved with the company returning to negotiations and making a realistic offer,” he added.

It remains difficult to gauge what impact the strike will have on supply chains until the dates are set, however I understands that the port is not concerned that there will be major disruption as it has continued to operate during the pandemic.

What goods are handled at the Port of Felixstowe?

The Port of Felixstowe handles a wide range of household goods, I understands. This contains:

  • White goods such as fridges, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers and ovens
  • Electrical appliances such as TVs, kettles, toasters, hair dryers, laptops and patio heaters
  • Canned, bottled and frozen food and packaged beverages
  • Clothing, shoes and accessories
  • toiletries
  • furniture and garden furniture

Container shipping is the dominant way the UK trades with countries outside Northern Europe such as China, India and Vietnam.

The strike is likely to have less of an impact on goods imported from northern Europe, as this trade is usually done on ferries. Small items of high value such as diamonds are transported by air and are therefore far less affected.

Unite said the dispute stemmed from the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company offering its workers a 5 per cent wage increase, which is effectively a pay cut amid projections that inflation will hit 11 per cent.

The Port of Felixstowe is extremely profitable with its most recent accounts showing a pre-tax profit of £61m in 2020 when it also paid out £99m in dividends.

Last year workers received a below-inflation wage increase of 1.4 percent.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “The bottom line is this is an extremely wealthy company that can afford to give its employees a raise. Instead, it opted to give shareholders bonanza payouts of £100m.

“Unite is focused on defending the jobs, wages and conditions of its members and we will support our members 100 per cent in Felixstowe.

“Workers should not pay the price of the pandemic with a pay cut. Unite has had 360 disputes in just a few months and we will do everything in our power to defend workers.”

A spokesman for Felixstowe Port, which is operated by Hutchinson Ports, said: “We think the company made a very fair offer and we are disappointed with the outcome of the vote.

“The union has agreed to our request to meet with ACAS next week and we hope industrial action can be avoided.”

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