Members of Unite the union crewing tug boats at Teesport, the UK's fifth largest container port, are balloting for strike action in response to a pay freeze proposed by their employer Svitzer Marine Limited.

The pre-Christmas disruption could bring Teesport, which is at the heart of the government’s new freeports strategy, to a standstill. 

The crews, who have worked throughout the pandemic to ensure shipping freight carrying essential supplies for the UK continued to dock safely, are furious as Svitzer has benefitted from a significant increase in volumes coming into Teesside over the last year. 

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members have kept vital goods flowing through this major ‘gateway’ port throughout the most difficult year in living memory and the ‘thanks’ they get is a pay freeze. Maersk the shipping giant, which owns Svitzer Marine, is on course to make record profits touching £12 billion. There is no justification whatsoever for a pay freeze. Unite will fight that.”  

Svitzer’s parent company, the shipping giant Maersk (A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S), is forecast to make profits of $16.2 billion (£11.84 billion) for 2021, in part due to bottlenecks caused by the pandemic. 

The ballot for industrial action opens tomorrow (Friday 29 October) and closes on Friday 12 November. Strike action could begin by early December. 

Any industrial action Unite members decide to take will have a huge impact on Teesport, the North East and the wider UK economy. Teesport is a vital ‘gateway’ for the import and export of container freight, automotive components, steel, oil and gas. The port would be brought to a standstill in the weeks before Christmas. 

Unite regional officer Pat McCourt said: “Unite has exhausted every avenue to try and resolve this dispute through negotiation. It’s up to Svitzer and above them Maersk to get back to the table with a new offer. This dispute raises serious questions about the government’s freeports strategy, which is being touted by everyone, from ministers to the Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, as ‘levelling up’ the North East. This attack on our members’ pay exposes the reality.”

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers' living standards.


Notes to editors: 

Teesside freeport: Unite moves to ensure no race to the bottom on jobs, pay and conditions

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Unite is the leading union in the UK and Ireland, dedicated to defending and improving members' jobs, pay and conditions. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.