European Transport Workers Meet in Barcelona for 5th ETF Congress Amid Spanish Docks Chaos

Transport unions from across Europe are meeting in Barcelona this week for the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) congress just days after the adoption of a royal decree which could see hundreds of Spanish dockers lose their jobs.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin said the royal decree is a betrayal not only of Spain’s dockworkers but also its national interest.

The Spanish parliament voted 174 votes in favour, 165 against and eight abstentions. 

“We warned back in February that the government was tearing up the rule book with a callous disregard for jobs, Spanish prestige and international conventions, and what the consequences would be,” Crumlin said.

“The Spanish Government will now face a unified front of the world’s dockworkers supporting their Spanish colleagues.”

The ruling Popular Party, which does not hold a parliamentary majority, mustered enough support to pass the reforms after a failed effort in March, thanks to the votes of four other parties, including the Citizens and the Basque nationalist parties, while the Catalan European Democratic Party abstained from the process.

The legislation is aimed at liberalising the stevedore profession by gradually eliminating Sagep, the stevedores’ pooling company from which employers hire workers, and cutting down collective bargaining.

Lloyd’s List reports that the vote means Spain is legally in the European Union’s good graces, 10 months after the bloc began issuing fines for the country’s inability to reform its stevedore sector in line with that of the EU after being ordered to do so by a European court in December 2014.

However, the government also needs to form the appropriate regulation to apply this law moving forward. Another draft decree, leaked to Spanish media, lays out a set of regulations that the government will apply under this law.
These regulations need to be approved by all of the government’s ministers, as well as by trade unions and stevedore employers, before they can become official ministerial guidelines, industry sources in Spain told Lloyd’s List.
This has caused confusion about how exactly it is going work and these negotiations could take up to four months, sources added.

Trade unions announced on Monday eight days of strikes — on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday between May 24 and June 9, during odd hours — in response to the legislation.

Terje Samuelsen, chair of the dockers’ section of the ETF said: “This decision risks bringing into place a plan to aggressively and destructively liberalise port labour.

“It doesn’t even have the excuse of being in line with European Union rules – it goes recklessly beyond them. Unions are being forced into strike action.” 

The ETF Congress this year has the theme: “Fair Transport for Europe – social justice, solidarity, unity.”

The event will focus on transport policy and sustainable transport, labour and trade union rights, organising globally, cross border representation and coordination, and capacity building via training and education.

Outcomes will be fed into the ITF congress in Singapore 2018 and help shape the direction of the ETF and ITF for the next congress period. 

In addition, a dedicated young transport workers’ conference and a women transport workers’ conference were held on Monday and Tuesday. 

“Across Europe and the whole of the ITF global network, transport workers are facing huge challenges,” Crumlin said.

 “The mission here this week is to develop and cement the response to these types of challenges and also work together to make the most of our opportunities.

“Transport unions in Europe have a huge amount of clout within their sectors and this congress serves to remind people of that power.”

ETF general secretary, Eduardo Chagas said: “At this congress the ETF members will shape the future of the ETF and the transport sector in Europe.

“3.5 million transport workers count on ETF to eliminate social dumping practices in the sector and improve their working and living conditions.

“That is at the core of ETF’s as well as ITF’s priority work and we are ready to move Europe forward and fight for fair transport for its workers and citizens.”

You can follow the action live from Barcelona by searching #ETF2017 on social media and on the ETF congress website: www.etf-2017congress.org