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HAMBURG (dpa-AFX) – Harbor workers’ first warning strikes in decades may soon increase the pressure on already tense transport chains. “We expect a warning strike to start on Tuesday afternoon,” said a spokesman for HHLA, a Hamburg port logistics company, Hans-Jörg Heims on Friday. He referred to the appropriate leaflets that were circulating around the company. Given rising container congestion in front of and near North Sea ports, HHLA believes that the protest action is not coming at the right time. HHLA operates three container terminals at Germany’s largest seaport, making it by far the most important hub for the import and export of goods to and from Germany.
The Verdi union argues with the central association of German port companies about possible wage increases for 12,000 workers in the ports of Hamburg, Bremen and Lower Saxony. Given inflation and overtime during the pandemic, the union is dissatisfied with previous offers. “We did everything we could,” said a spokesman for Verdi. He didn’t want to comment on possible strike plans, but said, “The dockers are pissed.”
Negotiator Verdi Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth told a German news agency that she did not want to participate in the speculation. She referred to the press conference scheduled for Wednesday, where she wants to comment on the further actions of the union. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for next Friday. The peace obligation expired on June 1.
Container ships are currently gathering in front of all ports on the North Sea coast awaiting clearance. “It’s not just Hamburg’s problem,” said an HHLA spokesman. There are also traffic jams throughout the supply chain. For example, the HHLA has been struggling for months with the fact that containers that would otherwise be transported in one direction or another within a few hours have to be temporarily stored. The operator must therefore constantly look for new storage space where containers can be parked.
Overall, global supply chains no longer matched the onset of the pandemic more than two years ago. This is a problem not only for logisticians, but also for consumers and companies as buyers and suppliers. From the point of view of the IfW economic research institute in Kiel, what is new is that around 2% of global container loads are stuck in ports on the North Sea coast. “That’s a lot for the North Sea,” said IfW economist Vincent Stamer. The German ports, with Hamburg at the top, are not so much affected – most of the ships stand in the roadstead in front of Europe’s largest seaport, Rotterdam, and in front of Antwerp, number 2. This is also confirmed by a look at the Vesselfinder vessel tracking service.
Stamer attributes the problem in Europe first and foremost to the huge congestion in front of major US ports on the West Coast. Until a few months ago, there were sometimes more than 100 ships in the roadstead, because ports and inland traffic did not keep up with the unloading and further transport of goods. “The problem is moving from one corner of the world to another,” said Stamer. Traffic jams in front of Chinese ports due to the corona blockade are also frequent.
Given the tight transport chains, the potential for exerting pressure on a union in a collective bargaining conflict is likely to be particularly large. If there are indeed strikes, they will be the first ones since the late 1970s. With prices rising by almost eight per cent, Verdi is demanding “real compensation for inflation”, which is not specified in detail, as well as an hourly wage increase of EUR 1.20. In addition, the union wants to increase the so-called flat rate for workers in container companies from 3,338 euros per year by 1,200 euros. The union justifies this with the enormous overtime workload in the face of constant disruptions.
The employers’ side has so far offered two increases, including a further 3.2 and 2.8%, one-off payments of a total of 600 euros and an increase in allowance of 200 euros. Chief negotiator Ulrike Riedel is also arguing with the offer that the federal government has opted for various allowances to relieve workers from soaring energy costs. Combined with this, the employer’s offer provides real wage security for employees. / Kf / DP / men
The leverage must be between 2 and 20