Nearly 2,000 workers at the English port of Felixstowe, the UK’s largest shipping facility and which handles almost half of the country’s container traffic, began an eight-day strike yesterday to demand better pay conditions.
This is the first forceful measure adopted by the unions in Felixstowe since 1989, and joins other strikes called in recent days by other sectors, such as rail or London underground transport. The stoppage will affect its operations from yesterday until next August 29. Felixstowe, on the east coast of England, manages 4 million TEUs (a 20-foot container equivalent unit) each year and benefits from its proximity to European ports such as Le Havre (France), Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotterdam (Countries Low).
The strike comes as the UK enters its third day of a rail strike, called for better wages and job security amid sharp rises in energy and food prices. Just one in five trains in the UK were running on Saturday and at some stations not a single train arrived. Thousands of tourists as well as football and cricket fans were frustrated that they couldn’t make it to their matches. The disruptions will continue into Sunday and union leaders say more strikes are likely.
On top of that, last Friday most of London’s underground train lines were down due to another strike. The Unite union claims that Felixstowe’s parent company, CK Hutchison Holding, prioritized profits over giving its workers a fair wage.
The port authorities, for their part, expressed “disappointment” that Unite “did not come to the negotiating table for a constructive discussion and to try to find a solution.” Felixstowe handles almost half of the cargo that comes into the country. The strike could force commercial vessels to be diverted to other ports in the UK or Europe.
A growing number of unions are planning strikes at a time when Britain faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. The latest figures put inflation at 10.1% – the highest in 40 years – and a growing number of Britons are struggling to cope with soaring energy and food prices as wages enough to cover the level of the cost of living.
Postal workers, lawyers, British Telecom staff and rubbish collectors have also announced strikes for later this month, which will add to the chaos. Railway employees launched a series of large-scale strikes that suspended national rail travel in June, demanding better wages and working conditions as authorities try to reform the rail system, which has lost much of its revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic and changes in travel patterns.