Unite union announced staff at Felixstowe, which handles more than a third of UK ship-based cargo, voted in favour of strike action in a dispute over pay, warning of major disruption across the supply chain. The dockworkers join a growing wave of employees, in a range of sectors from rail to telecoms, resorting to industrial action as pay rises fail to keep pace with inflation which is expected to hit double digits in Britain by the end of the year.
Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed Unite union members were fuelling inflation by backing the Felixstowe walkout with a 9-1 majority.
Mr Rees-Mogg told BBC Radio 4’s the World At One: “It is very important that we keep Felixstowe Port open. The strike would be extremely damaging to the whole UK economy. It would have a direct effect on people’s lives.
“I am concerned about the 1970s’ approach to labour activity that’s coming from the unions, with a certain degree of support from the Labour Party at the moment.”
He added: “This is part of the problem with inflation and inflation is a major problem for the economy. It feeds through to increase wage demands and to tensions in the labour market. I don’t think this will prove the answer to inflation, as it wasn’t in the 1970s.”
News of the strike vote come after the shipping industry was hit by major disruptions last year due to the Covid pandemic sparking shortages of products, including children’s toys, for Christmas.
Unite’s regional officer Miles Hubbard warned industrial action would “inevitably create huge disruption across the UK’s supply chain”.
Strike action would cause major logistical problems for maritime and road haulage transport entering the port as Felixstowe is responsible for almost half (48 percent) of the UK’s container trade.
Unite said workers at Felixstowe Docks, which is operated by Hutchison Ports, had been offered a pay increase of 5 percent.
Workers backed industrial action over pay by 92 percent on an 81percent turnout.
Unite said in a statement: “Strike action would bring Felixstowe to a standstill and would cause major logistical problems for maritime and road haulage transport entering the port.”
The port is popular because of its deep harbour, closeness to Europe and strategic road and rail links to Britain’s commercial hubs. About 2,000 ships deliver nearly 4 million containers each year, making it Europe’s 8th biggest and 43rd in the world.
More than two-thirds of its holders ferry goods to the Midlands “Golden Triangle”, where giant online retailers have their national distribution centres.
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“Workers should not be paying the price for the pandemic with a pay cut.
“Unite has undertaken 360 disputes in a matter of months and we will do all in our power to defend workers.”
Hutchison did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The union did not give specific dates for the strike action, which will take place next month.
Earlier this month Unite said it was also balloting hundreds of dockworkers in Liverpool for possible strike action.