EU Court Fines Spain for Delays in Port Reform

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Main courtroom, EU Court of Justice (Curia / G. Fessy)

By MarEx 2017-07-13 14:06:33

The European Court of Justice has fined the government of Spain $3.4 million dollars for delays in liberalizing the nation's stevedoring regulations. The fine amounts to about $125,000 per month of noncompliance – much less than the penalty that the court initially assessed, which would have totaled to more than eight times that amount. 

In December 2014, the court ordered Spain to remove pro-union legal restrictions on port employment or to face fines of $30,000 per day. The reform measure was highly controversial, and in the face of steep opposition from unions and allied political parties, the Spanish Ministry of Public Works could not enact and ratify a reform decree until May 2017. If the government had waited longer, it would have faced steeply increased fines for what the court deemed “serious” noncompliance.

Minister of Development Inigo de la Serna, who spearheaded the reform decree for the Spanish government, said Wednesday that any fine amount was "only and exclusively responsibility of those who did not support the validation of the royal decree law." 

After the decree law took effect, Spanish longshore unions initiated rolling strikes to compel port operators to guarantee the continued employment of their members. The largest ports eventually gave in to the pressure, and on June 29, port employers association Anesco acceded to their demands with an "unofficial" agreement to avoid layoffs. In exchange, the longshore unions agreed to take a pay cut of up to 10 percent. 

The agreement created a split amongst port employers, and at least three firms have departed Anesco in protest. The Spanish Port Investors Platform (PIPE) denounced the union labor actions as "pressures, coercion and blackmail," and the opponents of the new collective bargaining agreement contend that it violates the spirit of the decree, if not necessarily the letter of the law. Maritime lawyer Alberto Rodriguez told Spanish paper El Confidencial that the terms of the agreement appear to mirror many of the conditions that existed before the new decree, like guaranteed union labor, union participation in hiring decisions, and union involvement in the formulation of work rules. A group of port employers has asked the National Market and Competition Commission to review the legality of the agreement for any violation of antitrust regulations. 

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