STOCKHOLM: Some 1,000 dockers at eight ports in Sweden walked off the job on Wednesday after failing to secure their own collective bargaining agreement, a conflict businesses fear could hit them hard.

Members of the Swedish Dockworkers Union went on strike at ports across the country, including Malmo in the south, early Wednesday for two to three hours.

In retaliation, the employers organisation Ports of Sweden declared a lockout.

Failing an agreement, the strike will be expanded to a total of 15 ports, including the country’s biggest in Stockholm and Gothenburg, in the coming days.

“It is clear that the conflict is going to hurt Swedish companies hard and soon,” the head of the Swedish Confederation of Transport Enterprises, Mattias Dahl, said in a statement.

The forestry sector, one of Sweden’s biggest industries, looked set to be particularly affected.

Forestry group Stora Enso said it was concerned its deliveries would be delayed, especially at Gothenburg’s roll-on roll-off terminal.

“It’s too early to tell how much this strike will affect us. We will try to take steps to minimise the consequences, as much as we can,” spokesman Carl Norell said.

But if the strike were to drag on, “it could hurt confidence in Sweden as a trading partner,” he said.

Sante Dahl, the head of forestry company Vida which runs nine sawmills among other things, said the timing was unfortunate.

Swedish companies are busy trying to prepare for the effects of Brexit, as Britain is a large export market.

“We have tried to prepare ourselves for the implications of what Brexit will mean for our exports to Britain, such as filling up extra stocks. The conflict now puts a stop to that work and that is very unfortunate,” he said in a statement.

The strike comes after years of conflict between Ports of Sweden and the dockworkers’ union, which wants to set up its own collective bargaining agreement instead of belonging to the larger transport workers’ agreement.

The union — which has around 1,300 members, or about half of Swedish dockworkers — argues the current agreement does not enable it to negotiate on working conditions specific to their trade.

Mediators were called in but the union rejected their proposal.

The union said Wednesday it was willing to meet the employers’ organisation directly, but the latter said it would only agree to talks once the strike was called off.

The strike “isn’t something we want, but we haven’t been able to find any other solution,” Henrik Collvin, a union representative in Malmo, told news agency TT.