Spain: Second time lucky

Try again: Spain is about to launch a second mediated attempt to secure port labour system reforms. Credit: Cat Collector Try again: Spain is about to launch a second mediated attempt to secure port labour system reforms. Credit: Cat Collector

COMMENT: Spain is about to launch a second attempt to reform its stevedoring industry in order to put it on a more competitive footing and thereby achieve compliance with European Union (EU) requirements.

Early in April, Inigo de la Serna, Minister of Public Works, Spain, declared that the Government would present a Royal Decree with associated regulations that will reflect the results of the mediation that followed Spain’s Parliament voting against the original port labour reform initiative in mid-March. At the time of writing, the precise date of the presentation of the new law to Parliament was unclear with some parties expecting it in late April and others in early May.


In the immediate aftermath of the rejection of the original Royal Decree, the unions Coordinadora, UGT, CCOO, CIG and CGT agreed to suspend planned strikes and together with port employers to engage with a Mediator to find a solution to the reform initiative. From the Government perspective this was also critical in order to avoid significant fines from the EU due to non-compliance with EU law. Indeed, early in April the Court of Justice of the European Union communicated to the Spanish Government its intention to implement disciplinary proceedings which could see the imminent implementation of daily fines of up to €134,000.


Arriving at a mediated solution satisfactory to both sides as well as government has, however, not been easy.


At the end of March, the stevedoring unions and port employers discussed an agreement on various aspects of labour reform including the reduction of stevedoring salaries by 10%. The average port worker salary in Spain is high, at €68,000. The government was not, however, supportive of these arrangements.


The main stumbling block for government is related to worker compensation for retrenchment/early retirement and it is cargo-handlers' body ANESCO’s wish to establish templates for this with these to be written into law. The Spanish Government stated immediately following the release of the proposals that they would be “contrary to the European ruling” which in December 2014 initiated the process of the liberalisation of member state’ port sector labour arrangements.


The reaction of the unions to the government stance was, as might be expected, one of significant indignation with the unions saying that they were ready to embrace reforms that seek to achieve a more competitive port sector, but that the government is not supportive of their efforts and those of the employers.


In arriving at a ‘solution’, ANESCO has had to factor in the ongoing threats by stevedoring unions of strikes, slow working and other measures that serve to damage the sectors profitability. The Valencia Port Stevedoring Society (SEVASA), for example, estimates losses of €2.5m per day resulting from union measures designed to resist port sector reforms. This includes major losses arising from vessels having to be diverted to other ports – 17 vessels at the time of writing – with these diverted to Barcelona, Sines, Portugal and Gioia Tauro, Italy. SEVASA further highlights the potential for long-term damage to the Valencia brand, both nationally and internationally.


Undoubtedly, key port employers would like to see a more comprehensive reform package but achieving this in the face of continual threats of slow working and all-out strikes is extremely challenging. Equally, ANESCO has suffered from not being an entirely unified body. It is well known that certain port employers in Barcelona and Algeciras are closer to port unions and not so ardent in their pursuit of port sector reforms; they benefit by not being heavily targeted for industrial actions against the proposed reforms.



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