Spain's Ministry of Public Works is moving forward swiftly with plans to liberalize the nation's longshore labor policies. Despite the objections of union leaders and the possibility of rolling strikes, the agency intends to finalize a "royal decree-law" on port reform – an administrative ruling with the force of law – as early as Friday.
Under current regulations, port employers have to hire stevedores from designated local staffing companies, or SAGEPs (Sociedad Anónima de Gestión de Estibadores Portuarios), all of which are unionized. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that this arrangement was a violation of EU laws on freedom of establishment, and ordered Spain to open up the system to competition.
Spain's newly appointed minister of public works, Íñigo de la Serna, announced a liberalization plan to comply with the EU court order early this month. Under Serna's proposed decree, port employers would be able to phase out hiring SAGEP labor over a three-year period, and could substitute temporary workers or other forms of non-union labor instead.
The International Dockworkers' Council asserts that Serna's reforms were handed down by fiat, without consultation, and that they could lead to the loss of more than 6,000 union jobs. “The Spanish Government threatens the growth of the Spanish economy and seeks to make the dockworker profession disappear from national ports,” said Jordi Aragunde, general coordinator of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC).
Spanish dockers’ unions announced rolling strikes on February 20, 22 and 24, but called off the labor action last week when the government agreed to negotiate. On Tuesday, the transport union CETM said that the ministry would not agree to modify aspects of the reform plan, and that it would respond with a new round of strikes. Nine walkouts are scheduled over a three-week period beginning March 6.
Negotiations will resume next week, but by that point Serna's decree may already be finalized. "[The strike] is the only way we have to defend ourselves and express our rejection of the Royal Decree Law to promote the reform," said Antolín Goya, coordinator of CETM.