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Renewed strikes at key UK ports further disrupt supply chain

A new round of industrial actions started from the end of September at key container ports in the United Kingdom (UK) as pay disputes went on. At a time when the supply chain was already overstretched, the walkouts inflicted more pressure.

More than 1,900 members of Unite, one of the largest trade unions in the UK, have renewed another eight-day industrial action at Felixstowe since the end of September, following an eight-day strike at the UK’s busiest container port in late August over the pay dispute.

Strike action resumed after the employer refused to return to negotiations following the August strike action, Unite said. As the employer imposed a 7-percent increase on the workforce, it was considered by the union as “a real terms pay cut” when taking account of persistently high inflation.

At the Port of Liverpool, also one of the UK’s busiest, nearly 600 port workers have decided to take seven days of fresh strike action starting from mid-October. It came after a two-week industrial action in September launched by more than 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers.

Control room operators have also voted to join the strikes in October. The port’s dock masters, shift managers and vessel traffic services officers are preparing to be balloted for strike action as well.

Due to the combined impact of so many roles striking, the entire port in Liverpool will “literally become inoperable,” Unite said.

Strikes at Felixstowe and Liverpool mean over 60 percent of the UK’s container port capacity will be affected by industrial action, according to the union.

Peel Ports Group, owner of the Port of Liverpool, has expressed concern over the impact that a sustained period of industrial action will have on many of the gains the city region’s economy has made over the last two decades.

The dispute is “damaging not only for us, but it is bad for business, jobs and the city’s economy,” said David Huck, the group’s chief operating officer.

“This latest round of strike action will inevitably cause huge disruption at Felixstowe and send shockwaves through the UK’s supply chain,” said Unite national officer Bobby Morton.

The Liverpool strike will likely disrupt supply chains, and freight shipping operators are likely to redirect cargoes to other UK and European ports, thereby slowing deliveries, risk management company Crisis24 warned on Monday.

“Disruptions could persist after the strike ends as officials clear the backlog of goods. Any backlog of goods could result in queuing and some disruptions along roads near the port,” it added.

The consequences were already visible. August’s strike at Felixstowe drove the UK’s vessel dwell times up by more than 80 percent month-over-month, the highest percentage change of any global region, according to a report published by logistics technology company project44.

On average, export containers wait about seven days at Felixstowe before being loaded onto a vessel, but August’s strike caused export containers to wait as long as 21 days in port while import containers waited as much as 13 days, the report added.

“There is reason to be concerned about the disruption to supply chains, trade and business across the UK caused by the industrial disputes,” it noted. “With Christmas fast approaching, the prospect of two ports closing at once won’t help the UK’s already troubled supply chain.”

Nevertheless, the report added, a quick settlement of these industrial disputes is unlikely given the mood among dock workers at major British container ports. Moreover, the cost-of-living crisis is expected to get worse as Sterling has recently tumbled to make imports more expensive.

Due to both the earlier labor actions at German ports and the current actions at several UK ports, congestion issues in northern Europe are expected to persist, noted a freight market update published by logistics company Flexport.
Source: Xinhua

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