Strike action by Belgian port workers disrupted shipments in and out of the country’s ports on Monday this week (November 24th), with significant disruption at the port of Antwerp, one of the top five largest vehicle handling ports in Europe. There was also disruption at the ports of Ghent and Zeebrugge.

The 24-hour strike, which started at midnight on Monday, was called by three national unions, protesting about the erosion of index-lined pay rises and tax increases, according to maritime services provider, Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS).

On Monday, ISS Belgium advised that there was a backlog of 65 ships waiting at anchorage to call at the port of Antwerp, with a further 12 vessels waiting to depart.

A spokesperson for the port of Antwerp confirmed that vessels had to wait to enter and leave the port.

“There are people working, but since we have people missing in the whole chain, activities can not be conducted in a normal way,” the spokesperson told Automotive Logistics.

While exact indications of the impact on automotive volumes was not available, the spokesperson did say that terminal operators and port companies had informed customers in the days leading up to the strike that less activity was to be expected on Monday, and advised clients to concentrate operations on another day.

 “We’ve seen more activity this weekend (Saturday), so it seems that clients did follow the advice they got from the operators,” added the spokesperson.

A spokesperson for International Car Operators (ICO), a vehicle processor with car terminals at both Antwerp and Zeebrugge, said that the main disruption was at Antwerp but that, as with the port authorities, ICO had informed its customers in advance and handled vessels at the weekend prior to the action being taken.

“Customers are not happy with the impact of the strikes, but at ICO we try to limit the problems,” said the spokesperson, adding that deliveries will be up and running again on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, at the port of Ghent, there are only three ships in port on Monday rather than the scheduled seven, because of the strike action.

A spokesperson said that it would take several hours before normal services were restored once the strike ends at midnight.

Further to this latest action, a national general strike is expected to take place on 15 December this year.

“A national strike won’t mean nobody will be working, so we will do as we did today – organise ourselves the best way we can and inform our clients so they can take the necessary precautions too,” the spokesperson for Antwerp port said.