Labor & Workforce

Striking workers at key UK port say they’re ready for long fight

By Claudia Sacrest

Felixstowe, England, Aug 24 (EFE).- The strike by nearly 2,000 crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores at the Port of Felixstowe has turned this normally tranquil corner of southeastern England into a new battleground between labor and capital as the United Kingdom contends with surging inflation.

The entry to the port, which handles 48 percent of Britain’s container traffic, is festooned with the red flags of the Unite union, and passing motorists honk their horns in support of the strikers.

Four days into the walkout, “our members are absolutely determined that they’re going to win themselves a decent pay rise,” Unite spokesman Miles Hubbard told Efe here Wednesday.

The official UK inflation rate reached 10.1 percent last month and is forecast by the Bank of England to top 13 percent before the end of the year.

The latest contract offer to the workers from the Port of Felixstowe calls for a pay increase of 7 percent.

“It needs to be said that this is a company that can in no way claim poverty,” Hubbard said. “This is a company that made 200 million pounds ($239.9 million) profit in the last two years.”

“If you have 61 million pounds of profit (in 2020), to settle our wage claim would still leave you with 47 million pounds,” the union representative said.

The company can resolve the “ridiculous” dispute “in a heartbeat,” he said.

“We want them to come back round the table. “We’ve always been ready to bargain, but if they don’t we’ll be looking at more industrial action and we’re here for the long run,” Hubbard said, noting that the current strike at the port is the first since 1989.

Though dockwork is traditionally a male occupation, the Felixstowe employees include a significant number of women and the age range is wide.

A man identifying himself only as George who started working at the port in 1998 complained of scheduling practices that see shifts canceled or added at short notice.

George and Paul, another 24-year veteran of Felixstowe, likewise accused the company of lying in its public statements about the strike, notably with the claim that median annual pay for port employees is more than 40,000 pounds ($47,175).

“This is an average that they’ve calculated including some high-ranking employees,” George said. “The salaries are between 29,000 and 37,000 pounds depending on the contract and seniority.” EFE csm/dr

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