Container hauliers are facing delays at the Port of Liverpool as workers began a two-week strike today (24 October), after pay negotiations ended in recriminations on both sides.

Unite has accused Peel Ports, which owns the Port of Liverpool, of reneging on a pay deal which the union said it had agreed in principle.

Meanwhile Peel Ports is accusing Unite of prolonging the dispute. It is questioning why the union has refused to give all employees a postal vote on its 11% offer, claiming that workers would accept the deal but are reluctant to vote for the deal in an “outdated” mass public show of hands.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added: “The Unite team negotiated in good faith with Peel Ports. But the talks ended in farce, with the deal agreed between Unite and senior management being pulled by the board. Strike action by our members and with the full support of Unite will go ahead.

“Peel Ports’ untrustworthy behaviour and its attempts to threaten the workforce are only escalating the dispute.”

Unite claims that since the strikes at the docks began on 19 September, the workers have been subject to job threats, despite plans to expand the port and untrue statements exaggerating the amount the company has offered as a pay increase.

The union pointed to Peel Ports pay out of £300m in dividends over the last five years and its recently recorded pre-tax profits of £141m.

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Unite national officer Robert Morton said: “Our members resolve is only increasing with every new low the company sinks to. They know Peel Ports can afford to pay a proper increase and that is what has to happen.”

Peel Ports accused Unite of prolonging the dispute, pointing out it has improved its offer six times during pay negotiations.

Peel Ports chief operating officer David Huck said: “It’s hugely disappointing that Unite has staged yet another outdated show-of-hands mass meeting which has, very predictably, failed to support our improved 11% pay offer.

“This is the highest percentage increase of any port group in the UK by far and would see average annual pay rise to £43,275.

“Given we have now improved our offer six times and Unite have consistently blocked the involvement of ACAS to help arbitrate, you have to question whether the union really wants to resolve this damaging industrial action or is simply prolonging it for their own ends.

“The fact that they have refused to give all employees an independent postal vote on this 11% offer, free from the pressures and undue influence of an outdated show-of-hands, is very telling. Our feedback from many, many workers is that they are in favour of accepting but are too reluctant to do so in a mass meeting.

“Meanwhile, the latest two-week strike will cause yet further damage to our customers, the business and the Liverpool City Region, threating even more jobs at the port.

“It’s wholly irresponsible of Unite to prolong this self-defeating strike. They should have the courage to put this to members and let them have their say. It’s the only way to safeguard as many jobs as possible and implement the most generous pay increase in the industry.”