So far, 2022 has not delivered the labour disruption it threatened earlier in the year. The level of strikes in ports, in particular, has remained low, despite threats of problems in Germany and the US.

Now the possibility of strike action has arisen in Britain, with two terminal complexes facing disputes.

Some workers at the Port of Felixstowe in the South East of England have signalled their intention to start “eight days of strike action on Sunday 21 August ending on Monday 29 August” after pay talks broke down. The port offered a pay rise of 7%, which some workers seem to have accepted, yet others have rejected. This suggests that the situation is unclear and strikes are not certain. Felixstowe is the largest port in Britain in terms of the number of containers handled.

The smaller port of Liverpool is also having labour problems, with terminal workers threatening unspecified action over pay. The situation seems similar to Felixstowe, with a degree of uncertainty around the position of the workforce. No definite date for any strike appears to have been specified.

The container terminal at Liverpool, owned by the terminal operator Peel Ports, has seen significant investment in container handling facilities over the past ten years, combined with a growth in throughput volume. However, unlike Felixstowe, it is not part of the Le Havre-Hamburg range of ports, which dominate container shipping in Britain and continental Europe. There are a number of alternatives to Felixstowe, with the DP World London Gateway terminal in the Thames Estuary being prominent. Strikes at either port would be inconvenient for some shipping lines and logistics providers, but they would not halt container movement in the UK.

At present, the situation in the UK might be similar to that in the US, Germany and other economies where workers have sought pressure on terminal management during wage negotiations. Yet these workers appear to be reluctant to embark on extended strikes, both for reasons of their income but also due to the criticism such action would attract at the political level.

Source: Transport Intelligence, 18th of August 2022

Author: Thomas Cullen

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