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A new wave of UK port labor strikes begins, with ‘massive impact’ for Christmas supply chain

A striking dockworker on a picket line outside the Port of Liverpool during a strike in Liverpool, UK, on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Dockers at Britains fourth-biggest container port voted unanimously to reject their employers latest pay offer — and walk off the job for two weeks in a strike that gets into full swing on Tuesday. Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Unite, the union representing dock workers at the Port of Liverpool currently engaged in a two-week strike that ends on Sunday, will strike for a second time from Oct. 11-Oct. 17 as they battle for wage gains to match record inflation in the U.K.

Bobby Morton, national officer for Unite, tells CNBC the union is resolute in its fight for a wage that matches the soaring inflation. “We’ll never walk alone,” he said.

The Port of Liverpool announced the second strike in an alert to customers after Unite rejected the offer of Peel Ports Group, Britain’s second-biggest ports group, to increase the wages by 8.3%, in combination with a one-off payment of £750.

The shop stewards who represent union workers accepted Peel Ports request for a meeting at the union office on Tuesday. David Huck, COO of Peel Ports, told the workers of the damage being done to the Port of Liverpool by the strike and asked the strikers to return to work for a few weeks in order to come to an agreement. Union workers did not stop the strike and it is expected to continue until its scheduled end on Sunday. The time between the strikes will be used to try to find a solution.

Supply chain impact from second round of U.K. strikes

The latest development comes amid mounting labor issues linked to inflation at U.K. ports, with workers at the nation’s largest port, Felixstowe, beginning another strike this week after one in August.

Andreas Braun, Europe, Middle East, and Africa ocean product director of Crane Worldwide Logistics, told CNBC that vessels currently in route to Liverpool will need to reroute, which will delay the arrival of products.

“Unlike the first strike where there was sufficient preparation time to deviate to alternative ports, ocean lines and shippers will now try to deviate from the ports again to Hamburg and Rotterdam, increasing the travel time to the new port by 12-14 days. Then you have an additional five days of ground or rail transport which could be in upwards of five days,” he said.

This additional strike will put further stress on the logistics chains as Felixstowe is in the middle of its latest strike and it will lead to supply issues across the U.K.

“While the first round of strikes had no severe impact due to the early announcement, the next round will lead to undersupply in the stores,” Braun said. “Unite made it clear that until they have reached their goals these waves of strikes will continue which will have a massive impact on the Christmas business and supply.”

The CNBC Supply Chain Heat Map shows the present situation at the ports.

MDS Transmodal calculates the value of the trade that is processed at the Port of Liverpool at approximately $1 billion a week, with 30% of the traffic handled at Liverpool coming from or destined for the U.S.

“This comes at a pivotal time for the holidays when products need to arrive early to be placed on store shelves,” Antonella Teodoro, senior transport consultant at MDS Transmodal, told CNBC earlier this week.

According to customs data, recent U.S. exports to Liverpool include Ford Mustangs, Chrysler Jeep Cherokees, Dodge vehicles, Ghirardelli Chocolate, which is owned by Lindt & Sprüngli, red oak lumber, Vitamix products, body lotion from Great American Beauty, and apparel.

“The Felixstowe and Liverpool ports will be seeing the last Christmas orders being offloaded, so delays now will cause some pain to U.S. exporters trying to get their goods in and U.K. retailers trying to get them off in time for the festive season,” said Simon Geale, executive vice president of procurement at the consultancy firm Proxima. “The economic and political climate in the U.K. is volatile and this sustained disruption will start to cause sustained problems at a time when imports are becoming very expensive due to the weak pound and some U.S. exporters will be starting to price risk back into their contracts.”

CNBC also reviewed Bills of Lading for items leaving Liverpool bound for the U.S. Products range from auto parts for Ford — which recently cited supply chain issues for an additional $1 billion in costs — furniture from Raymour & Flanigan, whiskey and beer from Diageo, copier ink, and parts for Xerox and Donaldson.

The CNBC Supply Chain Heat Map data providers are artificial intelligence and predictive analytics company Everstream Analytics; global freight booking platform Freightos, creator of the Freightos Baltic Dry Index; logistics provider OL USA; supply chain intelligence platform FreightWaves; supply chain platform Blume Global; third-party logistics provider Orient Star Group; marine analytics firm MarineTraffic; maritime visibility data company Project44; maritime transport data company MDS Transmodal UK; ocean and air freight rate benchmarking and market analytics platform Xeneta; leading provider of research and analysis Sea-Intelligence ApS; Crane Worldwide Logistics; and air, DHL Global Forwarding; freight logistics provider Seko Logistics; and Planet,  provider of global, daily satellite imagery and geospatial solutions. 


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