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'Think carefully' dockworkers warned as strike looms

PUBLISHED: 07:43 21 December 2019

Felixstowe docks could have its first strike in over 30 years, if action by engineering workers goes ahead as planned on December 27 and 28  Picture: STEPHEN SQUIRRELL

Felixstowe docks could have its first strike in over 30 years, if action by engineering workers goes ahead as planned on December 27 and 28 Picture: STEPHEN SQUIRRELL

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A planned strike at the UK's biggest container port - and a ballot which could result in wider industrial action - is scaring away customers and could hit jobs and pay, port bosses have warned.

A ballot begins on Christmas Eve which could widen strike action at the Port of Felixstowe  Picture: IAIN BLACKLAWA ballot begins on Christmas Eve which could widen strike action at the Port of Felixstowe Picture: IAIN BLACKLAW

In a strongly-worded letter to port staff, Port of Felixstowe chief executive Clemence Cheng warned workers to "think carefully" about taking strike action as trouble brews at the port.

Engineering workers are due to strike on December 27 and 28 in a row over the transfer of port engineering worker jobs to an outside contractor.

MORE - Port boss's stark warning over festive strike action

In a second letter to staff - passed to the Ipswich Star and East Anglian Daily Times by a port worker - Mr Cheng makes clear that he believes the action - which could escalate after the wider hourly-paid workforce is balloted on possible action after Christmas - could be deeply damaging.

"Any vote in favour of action risks more serious consequences for the business, for your personal earnings, and for jobs," he said.

"We have seen other ports crippled by industrial action in the past and which have not fully recovered to this day."

He described as "nonsense" that port workers' jobs are at risk due to the changes the business is making by outsourcing its tyre-fitting operations with the transfer of eight jobs.

"We have a fundamentally strong business to which I know the overwhelming majority of employees are very loyal. It is ours to lose.

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"Strike action, or a vote in favour of a strike, will damage our business and all of us that work in it. No one is threatening your jobs or your income other than those encouraging you to take this action."

A ballot which could potentially widen strike action among the 116-strong engineering workforce to 1800 Unite members in the wider workforce at the port is due to take place from December 24 to January 14 over the outsourcing issue.

But Mr Cheng said he was "baffled", about the point of the ballot, as seven of the eight affected staff have chosen to be redeployed at the port rather than take up jobs at Universal Tyres on the same terms and conditions and one has opted for retirement and he believed the matter had been resolved.

Meanwhile, he feared that the actions were already damaging business prospects at the port.

"Since Unite's high profile campaign in the media about the ballot and the proposed industrial action we already have a number of customers making inquiries and, no doubt, making alternative arrangements for their cargo.

"There is no point scaring our customers away and giving a leg-up to our competitors."

Mr Cheng went on to urge staff not "to allow Unite to destroy what we have built together".

The port declined to comment on the letter, or the industrial unrest.

However, Unite regional officer, Neal Evans, disputed most of the contents of Mr Cheng's letter, saying it was "unhelpful and provocative". He added that the union was "remaining open" to negotiations to avert what would be the first strike at the port in 30 years. "We don't intend to negotiate through the media," he said, adding that the union didn't enter strike action lightly.

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