Norris says “of course” workers who do not feel able to pay bills will take action

Katie Neame

Labour’s Alex Norris has declared that “of course” workers who do not feel able to pay their bills will “take action” amid an ongoing strike by workers at the UK’s largest container port.

More than 1,900 members of Unite working at Felixstowe port in Suffolk began eight days of industrial action on Sunday, the first strike at the port since 1989.

Unite said talks on Saturday had not reached a “satisfactory conclusion” after the employer, the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, failed to improve on its offer of a 7% pay increase. The union emphasised that the offer was “significantly below” the real (RPI) inflation rate of 11.8%.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, the shadow levelling up minister said: “It’s always a very difficult decision – I say this as a former union organiser myself – for staff to withdraw their labour. We know that, at Felixstowe, I don’t believe this has happened since the late 80s.”

The Labour frontbencher said staff at the port were looking at their pay packets and their bills and seeing that they “don’t marry up”.

“They’re also looking at the work that they’ve put in in the extraordinary last couple of years that we’ve all had and they’re looking at the significant profits that have been made by the ports at Felixstowe and saying that that doesn’t marry up and that’s where you see the action that’s being taken today,” he added.

Norris declared: “I would hope, as I’m sure you would, I’m sure all your viewers would too, that a solution can be reached that works for staff, works for the operators so that we can keep freight moving. But I’m not hugely surprised given the context that we’re in this situation.”

Pressed on whether he supports the strikes, Norris said: “It’s for workers and their unions to decide the best tactics to get to a fair deal. It’s not for me to prescribe that. What I’m saying is that if workers don’t feel that they can pay their bills and that the pay-off that they get meets that moment, then of course they’re going to take action.

“So we now need a solution to that. We need that to be amicably organised in the mutual interest. I’m sure that can be done, and the sooner that happens, the better.”

Confirming the strike action on Sunday, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Both Felixstowe docks and its parent company CK Hutchison Holding Ltd are both massively profitable and incredibly wealthy.

“They are fully able to pay the workforce a fair day’s pay. The company has prioritised delivering multi-million pound dividends rather than paying its workers a decent wage.

“Unite is entirely focused on enhancing its members’ jobs, pay and conditions and it will be giving the workers at Felixstowe its complete support until this dispute is resolved and a decent pay increase is secured.”

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