Strike at Felixstowe Port could lead to empty shelves in supermarkets
Strike action is underway at the UK’s busiest container port after workers walked out on Sunday due to a pay dispute.
Experts have warned that the planned eight days of industrial action at the site in Felixstowe could lead to months of disruption, with retailers including John Lewis, Asda, M&S and Tesco facing potential stock shortages.
The port is a key gateway to global trade and handles nearly half of the containerised freight entering the UK. The strike action is set to interrupt around £700m worth of trade, with the knock effect lasting months and resulting in product shortages in the run-up to Christmas. Potential shortages could also put extra pressure on prices at a time of inflation.
The union Unite said about 1,900 of its members were taking action after a 7% pay offer from the port operator was rejected due to it being “significantly below” the rate of inflation.
Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham, noted that Felixstowe docks and its parent company were “enormously profitable” and were putting their profits ahead of “paying their workers a decent wage”.
The port said it has put in place contingency plans for this week.
However, container logistics giant, Maersk, said eight days of no operation at the site will have a “significant impact” and it has been left with “no choice but to omit three services [ships]”.
UK Managing Director, Gary Jeffreys, said the containers on those vessels will be dropped off in Europe and transferred back to Felixstowe or an alternative UK port based on customer preferences.
“This is normal practice when we invoke a contingency situation which can be for various reasons from industrial action, labour availability or even weather,” he said.
Mr Jeffreys added that while most customers have told them they are “well stocked”, there will be “fast-moving consumer goods that will be needed quickly”.
“Not everyone, especially small/medium size companies will have the luxury of significant stocks, they will be hit harder,” he said.
James Hookham, general secretary of trade group Global Shippers Forum warned that the strike could cause disruption to the key shopping season in the months ahead.
“There’s stuff [goods] on the way, it’s expecting to be here over the next five to six weeks, so if this is a prolonged stoppage there could be some serious disruption to expected delivery times,” he said.
“A lot of importers are expecting to start receiving the goods they sell not just at Christmas, but Halloween and half term, and that’s a big peak – as of course is now, Black Friday.”
“We can’t have a long strike here – this would really seriously mess up Christmas for everyone.”