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Workers begin second eight-day strike at Port of Felixstowe

Members of the Unite union man a picket line at one of the entrances to the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk in a long-running dispute over pay. (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
Members of the Unite union man a picket line at one of the entrances to the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk in a long-running dispute over pay. (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

Workers have begun a second eight-day strike at the UK’s largest container port but have scaled back their presence on the picket line to focus on shift changeover times.

Around 1,900 members of Unite at Felixstowe walked out at 7am on Tuesday, following a similar strike last month in a dispute over pay.

The trade union is requesting a 10% pay increase, but the port said it is “in the process of implementing a very fair pay increase of 7% plus £500”.

Unite described the 7% increase as a real-terms pay cut because of the soaring inflation rate.

The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, Britain’s biggest and busiest container port, where members of the Unite union have walked out (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, Britain’s biggest and busiest container port, where members of the Unite union have walked out (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

Miles Hubbard, regional officer with Unite, stood with a small group by dock gate number one at the Suffolk port on Tuesday morning.

Red flags bearing Unite branding fluttered in the wind around the edge of a nearby roundabout where crowds had gathered each day during the first strike.

People gathered there early on Tuesday, but by 10am the roundabout was empty.

Mr Hubbard explained: “We’re just running 6 o’clock through to 9 o’clock, then we’ll be back at 5.30 through til 7.30.

The site of a picket line at Felixstowe, which is being manned to coincide with shift changeovers and left empty the rest of the time (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
The site of a picket line at Felixstowe, which is being manned to coincide with shift changeovers and left empty the rest of the time (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

“It’s very cold as you can see. We don’t want to make people suffer so we’re doing it in sections like that.”

He said this would coincide with changeover times of the 12-hour shifts at the port.

Mr Hubbard said there were “very similar levels of support” for the second strike as there were for the first, adding: “Very high levels of support.

Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said the picket line will be manned from 6am to 9am, then again from 5.30pm to 7.30pm (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said the picket line will be manned from 6am to 9am, then again from 5.30pm to 7.30pm (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

“Minimal activity at the port.”

Asked if there could be a third strike if agreement is not reached with the port, Mr Hubbard said: “Our members will decide.”

Phil Pemberton, full-time convenor at the Port of Felixstowe, said: “After the first strike action that we took we asked the company to meet with us to see if we could resolve this through negotiation.

“They’ve chosen not to, which we believe is unprofessional.

Members of the Unite union man a picket line at one of the entrances to the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
Members of the Unite union man a picket line at one of the entrances to the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

“So we believe it was on us to put more pressure on the company to do just that and meet with us and try to settle this the best way we can.

“We’re now in a position where we’ve had to take another eight-day strike action because the company refuses to talk to us.

“A company that is making as much money as this company can afford to give us a decent pay rise, and we’ve got workers here who are not as well paid as everyone believes they are.

“I think it’s fair for a company where the workers have generated as much profit as we have to get a fair pay rise.”

Members of the Unite union manned a picket line to coincide with a shift changeover time on Tuesday morning (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)
Members of the Unite union manned a picket line to coincide with a shift changeover time on Tuesday morning (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Wire)

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a tremendously wealthy company which can fully afford to pay its workers a fair pay increase but has chosen not to in order to boost their already huge profits.

“Unite is now entirely focused on promoting and defending the jobs, pay and conditions of its members.

“The Felixstowe dock workers are receiving the union’s unflinching support.”

A port spokesperson said: “The port is in the process of implementing a very fair pay increase of 7% plus £500.

“The pay award is effective from January 1 when CPI inflation was 5.4%.

“One branch of Unite at the port has already put the same pay offer to their members who voted to accept it.

“The next pay rise is due January 1 2023 and we will discuss that with Unite in the normal way.”