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Friday, 20 December 2019
Port boss's stark warning over festive strike action
Felixstowe docks engineering workers are due to come out on strike on December 27 and 28, and a strike ballot for wider workforce is scheduled Picture: ALAN BOYLE
Christmas strike action planned at a major UK port poses a risk to jobs and damage to the business, its boss has warned.
Amid fears the dispute could escalate, port boss Clemence Cheng - who has written to the port workforce - has warned of potentially stark consequences for the business should the strike go ahead.
More than 110 members of union Unite who are part of the 116-strong hourly-paid engineering workforce at Felixstowe docks are set to strike on December 27 and 28 in a row over the transfer jobs to Universal Tyres.
MORE - Dock dispute risks snowballing as engineering workers strike over festive break Unite - which has about 1,900 members at the UK's busiest container port - is now staging a ballot of the wider docks workforce on whether to take strike action and industrial action short of a strike amid fears of "an unwelcome trend" in port jobs outsourcing. The ballot will open on December 24 and close on January 14.
Port chief executive Clemence Cheng has written to the workforce warning them of the threat the strike poses to the business - and suggesting that there is no longer a dispute to resolve. He was "very disappointed" in the Unite action, he said.
The letter - shared with the Ipswich Star and East Anglian Daily Times by a port employee - explains eight workers at the heart of the row were given the option of transferring to the new operator under the same terms and conditions, being redeployed elsewhere at the port, or taking severance. Seven chose to be redeployed at the port and one opted for retirement, he said.
"Any strike action risks damaging our business and whilst the company's proposals threatened no loss of jobs for the employees concerned, the same cannot be said of the strike," said Mr Cheng.
"You will be aware that we have lost traffic to competing ports in recent years. A strike risks more customers leaving which would, regrettably but unavoidably, have consequences."
The port was doing what it could to limit the risk by mitigating the impact of the strike action, he said, and to protect customers from the "potentially damaging consequences" of a strike.
But the port faced a number of headwinds, he warned, including competition from other ports, and a global economic slowdown affecting volumes, which had led to "multiple blank sailing by our customers".
While working together the port could weather the storms, the "unwarranted" Unite action "jeopardises that future", he warned.