Spanish port labour reform causes new wave of strikes

Inigo de la Serna in Congreso
Iñigo de la Serna in the Congress today

The Congress, the lower house of Spain’s Parliament, has approved today the new law on liberalization of the country’s dock labour system suggested by the government. This is the second attempt to reform the stevedoring sector in order to comply with the judgement of the European Court of Justice to bring it in line with the EU regulations on the freedom of establishment. The first effort failed two months ago, when the Congress voted down the law prepared by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

This time the royal decree was ratified with the simple majority of the deputies, with the support of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party), the liberal party Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (Basque Nationalist Party), with PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and some others voting against.

The decree meets the EU requirements and puts an end to the fines imposed by the European Union on the country in December 2014, which have totaled by now to around EUR 25 mln.

According to the Spanish legislation, companies that provide cargo handling services in Spanish ports were obliged to register with the Dockers’ Management Public Limited Liability Company (“Sociedad Anónima de Gestion de Estibadores Portuarios”, SAGEP), to hold shares in this company and to employ as a priority workers provided by this company.

The new law removes the monopoly of SAGEP and allows collective bargaining. At the same time, Spain’s Minister of Public Works and Transport Iñigo de la Serna commented that “the decree provides an agreement between the companies and the dockworkers unions and guarantees the employment for the port workers.” It also includes early retirement funds and establishes three years of transition period to the new system, so that the stevedores could preserve their labour rights.

However, the opposition insists that the new law does not guarantee the employment and provokes conflicts in ports. The dockworkers unions reject the new legislative text arguing that it goes further than was necessary to comply with the EU requirements and threatens employment of 6,000 workers.

As a result, the dockworkers unions have called a strike action of 8 days between 24 May and 9 June in all Spanish ports. The strike is to take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (May 24, 26, 29, 31 and June 2, 5, 7, 9).

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