Cost of living squeeze deepens as recession looms; Felixstowe port strike dates set – as it happened | Business

Felixstowe port workers to strike for eight days from August 21

Dockers at the UK’s largest container port, in Felixstowe, are to hold an eight-day strike from 21st August, in a pay dispute.

The Unite union has announced the dates for the strike action, saying the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had failed to make an acceptable pay offer.

Over 1,900 workers who are members of Unite will take part in the strike action, from 21st to 29th August, the union says.

The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The move is the latest blow to efforts by ministers to contain a wave of industrial unrest sparked by the cost of living crisis.

Workers at the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk balloted 92% in favour of a strike last month after they were offered a below-inflation pay rise by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.

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Dockers at Felixstowe are planning eight days of strike action over pay that could cause serious disruption to the UK’s largest container port.

Nearly 1,900 workers plan to stop work for more than a week at the Hong Kong-owned port, starting on Sunday 21 August and ending on Monday 29 August, according to the union Unite. The workers voted 92% in favour of strike action last week.

The union said the latest round of talks with the company at Acas, the conciliation service, had failed to yield a “reasonable offer”, but further talks are planned for Monday.

Prolonged strikes would almost certainly disrupt traffic through the port, adding to the problems facing the UK economy as it braces for a deep, year-long recession.

In another dispute, managers employed by Network Rail have voted to accept a 4% pay offer.

Economists have warned that the UK faces a ‘deepening economic crisis’, after the Bank of England forecast the country will fall into its longest recession in 30 years.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has defended the Bank’s actions, following sharp criticism from some politicians. He denied that the MPC had been too slow to raise interest rates, and insisted he wouldn’t leave his eight-year post early.

Bailey also called on businesses and workers to resist fuelling inflation by hiking prices, or pushing for large wage increases — arguing that society shoud recognise that the poorest (who suffer most from inflation) are least able to protect themselves.

A day after predicting that inflation would hit 13.3%, the highest in over 40 years, Bailey told the Today programme:

If everybody tries to beat inflation – and that is in both price-setting and wage-setting – it doesn’t come down, it gets worse.”

Millions of families are now cutting back on energy, food and other essential purchases, data from the Office for National Statistics shows.

Poor households are more likely to be making cuts, as the cost of staple goods and services jumps.

These are truly desperate times, and millions of people have been forced to take desperate measures,” said Sarah Coles senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown

“While all of us are facing the pain of rising prices, it’s those on lower incomes, renters, people with disabilities and those in the most deprived areas that are facing impossible challenges.”

Struggling families need help fast, before energy bills jump over £3,000 per year in the autumn. But any new package will have to wait until the Conservative leadership race is over.

Rising borrowing costs may now be cooling the UK housing market, with prices dropping last month for the first time in over a year.

But the US jobs market is hotter than thought, with American firms adding more than half a million new jobs in July.

That takes the US labor market – finally – back to its pre-pandemic level, a milestone in the economic recovery.

But Europe’s economy faces yet another problem – the Rhine, a key waterways, is just days away from being closed to commercial traffic because of very low levels caused by drought.

And Sir Christopher Gent, the former chief executive of Vodafone and ex-chair of GlaxoSmithKline, has been fined £80,000 by the UK financial watchdog for disclosing inside information to shareholders while chair of the medical-devices maker ConvaTec.

We’ll be back on Monday. GW

Passengers queue for a bus in Wimbledon.
Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

Some late news: Over 1,600 London bus drivers are set to strike later this month.

The Unite union has announced two days of strike action involving bus workers employed by London United, which runs services in west and south-west Greater London, after their employer failed to make a reasonable pay offer.

It will affect workers based at London United bus depots in Fulwell, Hounslow, Hounslow Heath, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush, Stamford Brook, and Tolworth.

The initial strike action will take place on Friday 19 August and Saturday 20 August. The first day of industrial action coincides with strikes planned for the London Underground and Overground.

Unite says workers were offered a pay increase of 3.6% in 2022 and 4.2%t next year, well below inflation.

Unite regional officer Michelle Braveboy said:

“Strike action will cause considerable disruption to passengers across London.

This dispute is of the company’s own making, it can make a fair pay offer to its workers but has chosen not to, so it now faces the prospects of a highly disruptive strike action.”

There are around 25,000 London bus drivers altogether.

Gwyn Topham

Gwyn Topham

Another industrial dispute has been resolved, with managers employed by Network Rail have voting to accept a 4% pay offer.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) confirmed its management-grade members had accepted the deal, which should ensure a skeleton service will continue to run during planned strikes in August.

The government has hailed the move as a breakthrough in the wider rail strikes dispute.

The decision was announced the day after 2,500 other TSSA members at Network Rail confirmed they would take action alongside 40,000 Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) members, including signallers and train operating staff, on Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said it was “fantastic news”, adding:

“This acceptance by these TSSA members will mean that we have a strong, reliable contingency staff for any future strikes and will be able to run services for passengers and minimise disruption to lives of everyday people.

More here:

The owners of Felixstowe port say they’ve not given up on reaching a deal with workers.

Hutchison Ports says they improved their pay offer from 5% to 7%, and are disappointed by Unite’s announcement of an eight-day strike.

A company spokesperson says:

The company continues to actively seek a solution that works for all parties and that avoids industrial action. We understand our employees’ concerns at the rising cost of living and are determined to do all we can to help whilst continuing to invest in the port’s success. Discussions are on-going and the company’s latest position in negotiations is an enhanced pay increase of 7%.

We are meeting again on Monday 8th August with Acas and the union.

“The port has not had a strike since 1989 and we are disappointed that the union has served notice of industrial action while talks are ongoing.

The port provides secure and well-paid employment and there will be no winners from industrial action.”

Deal news: Amazon is buying the makers of the Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner, in a $1.7bn all cash deal.

The acquisition of iRobot will expand Amazon’s range of smart home devices.

Roomba’s aren’t cheap — iRobot’s j7+ costs around £899, but have proved popular with families as they pootle around sucking up dirt and dust while dodging obstacles.

The company also makes a robot mop, the Braava – although again, a £699 price tag means many households (ours, certainly) will stick with the traditional methods….

Braava

Russia has banned investors from so-called ‘unfriendly countries’ from selling shares in certain strategic enterprises until the end of the year.

A presidential decree signed by President Vladimir Putin prohibits the sale of shares in key assets, from energy projects and banks to production sharing agreements and producers of coal and nickel.

Reuters says the ban covers almost all big financial and energy projects where foreign investors still have stakes.

Further talks are scheduled to take place at Acas next Monday, Unite adds, so there’s still a chance that the Felixstowe strike action is averted.

Unite national office for docks Bobby Morton says:

“Strike action will cause huge disruption and will generate massive shockwaves throughout the UK’s supply chain, but this dispute is entirely of the company’s own making. It has had every opportunity make our members a fair offer but has chosen not to do so.

“Felixstowe needs to stop prevaricating and make a pay offer which meets our members’ expectations.”

The Unite members who work at Felixstowe undertake a wide range of roles, including crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores.

An eight-day strike at the port of Felixstowe could cause significant disruption to UK supply chains.

Felixstowe handles about 40% of containers entering and leaving the UK, so delays unloading goods could cause a ripple effect through the economy.

My colleague Joanna Partridge explained last month:

Felixstowe handles about 45,000 containers each week, with freight including clothing, consumer goods and manufacturing components.

The Unite strike is timed to coincide with an increase in traffic: the number of containers begins to rise from August, as retailers bring over more goods, particularly from the far east, to start filling their warehouses before Christmas.

Unite says that talks at Acas “failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion” yesterday, after the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company didn’t improve on an offer of a 7% pay increase.

That is significantly below the RPI inflation rate of 11.8%, Unite points out.

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.”

Felixstowe port workers to strike for eight days from August 21

Dockers at the UK’s largest container port, in Felixstowe, are to hold an eight-day strike from 21st August, in a pay dispute.

The Unite union has announced the dates for the strike action, saying the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had failed to make an acceptable pay offer.

Over 1,900 workers who are members of Unite will take part in the strike action, from 21st to 29th August, the union says.

The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk
The Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The move is the latest blow to efforts by ministers to contain a wave of industrial unrest sparked by the cost of living crisis.

Workers at the port of Felixstowe in Suffolk balloted 92% in favour of a strike last month after they were offered a below-inflation pay rise by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.

The US dollar has strengthened sharply after today’s stronger-than-forecast jobs report.

It’s knocked the pound down by a cent, to $1.2020, the lowest in over a week.

CBI chief Tony Danker also put his finger on one problem pushing up inflation — shortages of workers.

Danker said “labour shortages is probably the number one issue facing businesses today”, as it holds back growth and also leads to wage pressures.

“I think we need to start, as a country, getting serious about how we solve labour shortages.”

Vacancies at UK firms have soared to record highs in recent months, with firms across the economy struggling to hire staff.

Several factors are to blame – some older workers have left the workforce altogether; long Covid has driven up sickness rates, and Brexit has hit the pool of EU workers which some firms, such as easyJet, relied on.

CBI fears vacuum until next UK PM starts

Back in the UK, CBI director general Tony Danker said he fears a vacuum until the next prime minister is chosen.

Danker, whose organisation represents UK businesses, says “we cannot wait until September 5 for action” to tackle the economic crisis, as Kwasi Kwarteng says will happen.

PA Media have the details:

Danker was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme and was asked about the Prime Minister and Chancellor being on holiday while the economic crisis looms.

Mr Danker said:

“I have no problem with people having short holidays. My fear is much more profound, which is that there will be a vacuum from now until September 5.

“We need the current Prime Minister and the current Chancellor to fill that vacuum. We need them to make decisions. We need them to make plans. We need them to reassure firms, markets and households that we are gripping this.

“We cannot wait until September 5 for action. We cannot wait until September 5 for plans and we cannot wait until September 5 for reassurance.”

He added that ministers need to prepare interventions for when Ofgem announce the energy price cap rise later this month:

“They need to be signalling that the Government has a response and an answer. And they need to be setting out growth plans and growth intentions now.”

US jobs market recovers to pre-pandemic levels

Well, this is A Moment, and a welcome one too amid the economic gloom.

Both US nonfarm employment and the US unemployment rate have returned to their February 2020 pre-pandemic levels, today’s jobs report shows.

It only took 27 months for US economy to recoup its pre-pandemic level of employment & unemployment rate. A historic feat in the wake of one of the most brutal shocks on record

“Total nonfarm employment & the unemployment
rate have returned to their Feb 2020 pre-pandemic levels”

— Gregory Daco (@GregDaco) August 5, 2022

Our US business editor Dominic Rushe reports:

The US added 528,000 jobs in July as the unemployment rate edged down to 3.5%, in a stronger than expected report.

Economists had been expecting jobs growth to slow in July and the latest figures from the labor department were far stronger than the average 388,000 jobs gained over the last four months.

Job growth was widespread, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and healthcare.

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