Dockers threaten port chaos with two week strike over pay offer

A Maersk Line vessel docking at the Port of Liverpool

Liverpool dockers have voted to strike for a two week period over a pay dispute.

More than 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers belonging to trade union Unite will take action from September 19 until October 3, over what the union describes is a “pay cut dressed up as a rise”.

Employers have offered a seven per cent deal, but Unite says that with the real rate of inflation, RPI, at 12.3%, and rising, this is a pay cut.

Unite said workers will also strike over what it claims is the company’s failure to honour the 2021 pay agreement. This includes the company not undertaking a promised pay review, which last happened in 1995, and failing to deliver on an agreement to improve shift rotas.

The company is registered as MDHC Container Services Limited. Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “MDHC is controlled by a tax-exiled billionaire and can well afford to pay these workers a proper pay rise.

“Workers across the country are sick to death of being told to take a hit on their wages and living standards while employer after employer is guilty of rampant profiteering. MDHC needs to think again, table a reasonable offer and fulfil its previous pay promises.”

MDHC, which Unite said made more than £30m in profits in 2021, is owned by the Peel Group, based in the Isle of Man.

The group’s majority owner is UK tycoon John Whittaker, who Unite says is worth more than £1.4bn and is also based in the Isle of Man.

The Australian investment fund, Australian Super, is the group’s second largest investor.

The union says strike action will severely disrupt both shipping and road transport in Liverpool and the surrounding areas.

More strikes are set to be scheduled in the coming weeks if MDHC fails to put forward an acceptable offer to the workers, it warned.

Unite lead officer for freeports, Steven Gerrard, said: “MDHC has refused to honour the previous pay pledges it made to our members and is refusing to put forward an acceptable pay rise now. It has no one else to blame for the disruption that will be caused.

“MDHC needs to deliver on the agreements it made in 2021 as well as tabling an offer our members can accept for 2022.”

A statement from the Port of Liverpool said today that the union’s action “is designed to disrupt operations at the UK container port after a pay package of 8.3% was rejected by the union, and following demands for greater pay increases”.

David Huck, chief operating officer at Peel Ports Group, said: “Despite a series of meetings, we are very disappointed Unite the Union has confirmed strike action by its Port of Liverpool Containers’ members.

“Whilst we fully appreciate our colleagues’ concerns on the rising cost of living, we have proposed an industry-leading pay package of 8.3%. This is all in addition to a 4.5% increase in 2021, with improvements to shifts, sick pay and pensions, and following continuous and above-average pay awards over the last 10 years.

“Our pay offer is well above the national average and represents a sustainable position for the business, taking into account stagnation in the container market, worldwide economic pressures, the conflict in Ukraine and global shipping disruption.”

He added: “We will continue to urge Unite the Union to keep talking with us so together we can find a resolution to avoid action that will be bad news for the sector, businesses and families, with the effects being felt for many months to come, at a time when container volume demand has started to reduce.

“We’ve recruited an additional 150 staff for Port of Liverpool container operations over the last 12 months, investing significantly in training and safety. Liverpool Port operatives earn 20% more than the Liverpool City Region average.

“We’ve also considerably improved terms and conditions over the last four years across shift patterns, sick pay, pension contributions and other benefits, bringing 600 port operatives on a par with all other employees after they were transferred from their former agency employers in 2018.

“Peel Ports has invested £500m into the Port of Liverpool Container Terminals, as part of a £1.2bn investment programme over the last 10 years to support sustainable business growth, creating over 400 quality new jobs

“Today we have over 200 CVs on file from applicants awaiting recruitment opportunities at the Port of Liverpool.”

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