Strikes in Hamburg

Jun 15, 2022Market Advisory

An unexpected warning strike in the major German ports has hit Hamburg as well as Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven [last Friday], reports our Johannes Barthels, Managing Director at ProTrans Global. “The impact will be huge,” he adds. “Truck and rail delivery are not possible today during the late shift. This will cause issues for the next 3-4 days.” Being the first industrial action at German ports in decades, this action was criticized by ZDS lead negotiator Ulrike Riedel who stated it was “not doing justice to the collective bargaining.” 

Ongoing Negotiations

Calling the industrial action by the union irresponsible, Riedel pointed out that there was a “large wave of delayed ships” expected at German ports in the upcoming weeks. This would, in turn, add further stress to the supply chain. Between this and rail services already being suspended due to containers piling up as a result of a pre-strike labor slowdown, and the construction going on in the area, there seems to be no end in sight of the backlog this issue has created. 

Yet employees are still feeling underappreciated and underpaid because of continuously rising prices due to inflation in the country. Schwiegershausen-Güth said, “As part of the critical infrastructure, the employees have worked non-stop in recent years, pushed their limits and, as key workers in the supply chains, have kept the shop running with their hands. They deserve recognition and their fair share.” 

But talks of bettering the wage were abandoned this past weekend in Hamburg, and shipping lines are bracing for further industrial action, as negotiations between German port employers and dock workers trade union ver.di (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft) ended without result. Even after 10 hours of negotiations, the two groups could not come to terms with one another. The union described the revised offer from the Central Association of German Seaport Companies (ZDS, short for Zentralverband der Deutschen Seehäfen e.V.,) as “inadequate.” 

Proceeded by 12,000 port workers at Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Wilhelmshaven and Emden giving a warning strike during the late-night shift on Thursday, the third round of negotiations that started on Friday had a heavy impact on operations at the ports. 

Riedel also stated that they have comparatively high wage levels in German seaports, and that in the last round of negotiations, they made an offer that compensates for the losses their employees deal with in real wages, given the currently challenging inflation rate. She went on further to state, “The fact that strikes are now being called in the current crisis framework is completely unacceptable.”

Heavy Congestion

From his view in Germany, Johannes further added, “The Port of Hamburg, as well as the Port of Bremerhaven, are very full. We see a lot of import freight in the ports (mainly from Asia) but also from a lot of export freight who stay at the port and wait for delayed departures to the USA.” On top of that, he adds, “We see a big wave of freight coming from Asia after China reopens. Many huge vessels from Asia [with several vessels over 18,000 TEUs], and the ports are already at their limits. I believe we will see a situation like in LA.”

Both ZDS and ver.di state that new negotiating dates will be agreed upon in the next few days. Shipping lines, however, are fearing there will be more calls for warning strikes by the union to increase pressure on the employers for better wages. Despite having plenty of time to navigate the industrial action disruption on Thursday, ocean carriers using Hamburg’s main container hubs at HHLA and Eurogate are adding more pressure to cargo operations at the port, as well.

Meanwhile, Rotterdam and Antwerp are heavily congested and will be unable to aid in handling transhipped German imports if the industrial action continues to escalate. 

Maersk stated its most severely congested North European ports were Bremerhaven and Rotterdam, and that its networks were operating “under severe pressure” to get things moving. Hapag-Lloyd said yard occupancy at Hamburg’s Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) stood at 90%, mostly due to the “discharge of heavy import vessels and reduced import pick up rates.”

“I believe that we will see a huge traffic jam tomorrow, and an extreme trucker shortage. Everybody will try to deliver their containers before the weekend to get the vessels, but hundreds of containers will not make it and will be stuck in the traffic,” Johannes said. 

TOC Logistics and ProTrans continue to work with shippers, terminals, lines and others in Germany to mitigate these effects to the best of our ability. Because of the fluidity of the situation, please stay in touch with your TOC Logistics Account Manager for the most up-to-date details and conditions.


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