Spain’s second stab at reforms

Waiting game: Spain's port are suffering from the reform delays. Credit: APM Terminals Waiting game: Spain's port are suffering from the reform delays. Credit: APM Terminals

COMMENT: Spain’s Council of Ministers has approved the content of what is intended to become the new national stowage law and is readying to pass it into law via a Royal Decree. It has not, however, arrived at this juncture without controversy, writes Mike Mundy.

After the Government initially promising to share the content of the Decree with both port labour unions and employers it has arrived at this point – a second attempt at passing the so-called stowage law – without any liaison on content with those directly affected by it. This has stirred up something of a hornets’ nest with both unions and employers clearly unhappy with this non-consultative approach.




The National Association of Stevedoring and Consigning Companies (ANESCO), the employer representative body, responded to the announcement of a second Royal Decree on stowage law saying that it will carefully study the decree’s content, when published, and emphasised that it had no prior knowledge of the content and had not participated in any negotiations related to it.


The port stevedores’ collective was more vociferous in its response – rejecting out-of-hand the new law approved by the Council of Ministers and underlining it had not been given the opportunity to consult on the proposals “as promised by the Minister of Development”. As such, it said, “this is an authoritarian and abusive stance, which does not respond to the consensus they intended to pursue”.


In practical terms, the struggle by the Spanish Government to reform Spain’s port labour law to bring it into line with more liberal European Union regulations governing the hiring of port labour reflects a complex situation.  


Spain’s ruling conservative People’s Party relies on support from other parties in order to achieve a majority. With the first Royal Decree, it introduced to reform the stowage law, a few months ago, it did not receive sufficient backing and the Decree failed - the first decree to fail in a long time.


Equally influential, the port unions are strong and some dissent is visible among the ranks of port employers, with certain employers favoured by unions and managing to side-step or minimise the impact of industrial action.


Its delay in implementing the required European reforms has seen Spain referred to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission, and fines understood to be in the order of €23m have resulted to-date. The tally continues to tick up with a daily fine of up to €134,000 in play.


As Port Strategy went to press, the Spanish Government intended to present the content of the new reform to Parliament within a few days, effectively placing its new hand of cards on the table. What the ‘score’ will be and whether this one is a winning hand remains to be seen.





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