Ports face more disruption from strike action as cost-of-living crisis bites

Fast rising cost of living crisis to precipitate more labour disputes across developed markets as dock workers seek to make up for rampaging price inflation, heaping more disruption on congested ports.

Ports face more disruption from strike action as cost-of-living crisis bites

Strike action at major German and UK ports has caused major disruption to carrier schedules and has adversely impacted port performance with average call durations rising after the strike action.  

A series of dockworker strikes impacted the main German seaports in June and July, while the UK’s largest container port Felixstowe was hit by two 8-day walkouts in late August and September. 

In response to these planned strike actions, carriers took steps to divert vessels away from the impacted terminals. Nonetheless, Drewry’s analysis, published in its Ports and Terminals Insight, shows a significant increase in pre-berth waiting time, especially in Hamburg, where larger mainline vessels incurred an average 4-day wait to enter the port in July and August.

While agreement with the unions has now been reached in Germany, labour availability – particularly at weekends - remains challenging. Yard occupancy remains high and this is impacting productivity, resulting in extended call durations

In the UK, cargo handling operations at Felixstowe also remains disrupted, due to the backlog created by 8-day walkouts by dock labour in both late August and late September / early October. Strike action at Liverpool is further adding to shipper woes. As a result disruption is expected to continue through 4Q22.

Drewry’s view is that rising inflation increases the likelihood of strike action in other markets as dock labour push for higher wages to address the increasing cost of living. Disruption on the US West Coast remains a risk, for instance, while labour contract negotiations remain ongoing between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and employer body the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Whether terminal operators will be able to pass higher wage costs back to customers at the end of the year remains to be seen.