LONDON, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Further walkouts are scheduled for late September at some of the United Kingdom's (UK) main container ports over pay disputes, and these industrial actions are expected to deal a fresh blow to Europe's already overstretched supply chains.
More than 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers employed by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) in Liverpool launched a two-week strike on Sept. 19 after they had rejected a 8.3 percent pay rise offer and are demanding 20 percent, Unite, one of the largest trade unions in the UK, said on Tuesday.
In light of the high inflation rate, the offer equals a real-terms pay cut, the union argued. Rising prices in the UK have increased financial pressure on households. The country's consumer price index (CPI) rose by 9.9 percent in the 12 months to August, as food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 13.1 percent.
Peel Ports Group, which owns the MDHC, said it was "disappointed".
"This is bad news for our employees, families and other local employers," said David Huck, the group's chief operating officer (COO), "We fully recognise our colleagues' concerns on the cost-of-living crisis."
The 8.3 percent pay hike offer came coupled with a one-off payment of 750 British pounds (850 U.S. dollars) for each container operative at the port, and the group urged the union to settle the dispute at the negotiating table.
The strike would overlap with another one at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk. A fresh walkout has been announced at the busiest container port in the UK after workers overwhelmingly rejected the management's attempt to conclude a pay deal, according to Unite.
The labor action, scheduled between Sept. 27 and early October, will come after more than 1,900 Unite members staged an eight-day strike in late August at Felixstowe over the pay dispute.
SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION
Despite the strike at its container operations, the Peel Ports Group said other Liverpool operations remain unaffected. Unite has warned that the latest strike action "will severely disrupt both shipping and road transport in Liverpool and the surrounding areas."
The Port of Liverpool, one of the UK's busiest, employs 845 people in the containers division. The docks there handled about 525,000 containers in 2021.
According to logistics company Flexport, the overlapping strike action will make the potential for disruption and congestion "very real." With labor action commencing this week for the port, additional stress was expected on the schedule-network that may lead to congestion and backlog for other UK ports, said logistics company Flexport on Tuesday.
The Dublin-based Irish Exporters Association has informed its members of the ongoing industrial action, noting that "such strike action could affect your export volume and supply chain (shipping and road transport)."
The previous walkout at Felixstowe in late August had already caused a significant increase in the number of days containers spent at the terminal, Glenn Koepke, general manager of network collaboration at the supply chain intelligence platform FourKites, said on Wednesday.
When the strike began on Aug. 21, all ocean shipments at Felixstowe had been at the terminal for 5.3 days on average, according to FourKites data. By Aug. 30, delays had peaked with containers spending an average of 9.9 days at the terminal, an 87 percent increase.
Delays at Felixstowe cleared up by Sept. 10, and during that time a few major European ports saw port congestion tick up slightly, Koepke said. ■