Two of Britain's biggest ports brace for overlapping strikes

Workers at Felixstowe (pictured) voted down a pay deal, while workers at Liverpool are set to strike from Sept 20. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON - Two of Britain's largest ports are bracing for overlapping dock workers' strikes later in September, threatening more disruptions to the nation's trade flows as union members harden pay demands in the face of surging inflation.

The engineering department and port operatives at Britain's Port of Liverpool rejected their employer's latest offer at a meeting Monday evening. The decision paves the way for a previously announced two-week strike starting Sept 20 at Britain's fourth-biggest gateway for shipping containers.

In a separate ballot, workers at Felixstowe voted down a pay deal imposed by management. That set the stage for a new round of industrial action at Britain's busiest container port. The walkout is set to occur Sept 27 to Oct 5, and follows a previous strike in late August.

In Liverpool, organisers said members turned down Peel Ports' proposal of a 7 per cent wage increase and a one-time payment of £750 (S$1,225).

Peel is urging the Unite union to keep negotiating, saying a shutdown will be felt "for many months to come, at a time when container volume demand has started to reduce", according to a statement on its website.

Unite members in Felixstowe voted by a margin of 82 per cent to oppose a 7 per cent raise and £500 bonus to be implemented by the British arm of CK Hutchison Holdings, Mr Bobby Morton, the labour group's national officer, said by phone Monday.

The port, in a statement on Hutchison's website, said "the collective bargaining process has been exhausted, and there is no prospect of agreement being reached with the union".

Britain's supply chains are growing increasingly fragile heading into the peak season for pre-Christmas shipping and a winter of soaring heating bills. If the two ports' strikes overlap, the stoppages will temporarily staunch the movement of more than half of Britain's container exports and imports.

Felixstowe was hit in August by eight days of walkouts involving almost 2,000 staff, a shutdown that forced shipping lines to reroute cargo and alter delivery schedules.

Unite is pressing for a raise of at least 10 per cent. BLOOMBERG

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