Spanish dockers have given notice of national strike action over three weeks from 24 May after the government adopted a new decree to liberalise access to the Spanish dock labour sector on 18 May.
The dockers, who say that the decree fails to meet their principal demand for guarantees that their jobs will be preserved after the disappearance of the existing dock labour scheme, plan to strike for eight days between 24 May and 9 June.
The strike would not be total, since the dockers plan to strike only during odd hours on strike days, but it is certain that the action would be highly disruptive. The government has already warned the dockers’ union against taking action that it says will damage the Spanish economy.
The new decree still needs to be approved by parliament, however. The government plans to submit it to members of the Cortes for approval on 18 May, but it is still unclear if it will be able to muster a majority in favour of it.
Attempts to pass an earlier version of the decree failed when the centrist Citizens (Ciudadanos) party unexpectedly joined the socialist PSOE party in refusing to support the government. Ciudadanos appears to be reluctant to support the new version of the decree, but the government has indicated that it thinks it can still win a majority following negotiations with other political formations.
It argues that the decree must be passed as a matter of urgency to enable Spain to comply with European Union (EU) legislation on the freedom of EU companies to establish themselves in other countries in the bloc. Under the existing scheme, cargo-handlers are obliged to join local companies called SAGEPS to get access to dock labour.
Spain has already paid EUR22 million (USD24 million) in fines since it was first ordered to comply with EU legislation by the Court of Justice of the European Union in December 2014 but, according to the government, now faces a sharp increase in the daily fines it is paying as the penalty for its non-compliance with the court’s judgment.
The dockers’ unions and the terminal operators’ body ANESCO have been negotiating to try to find a mutually acceptable replacement dock labour scheme in recent weeks under the chairmanship of a government-appointed mediator.
However, the dockers’ union, Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores del Mar (CETM), claims that the government has adopted the new decree without taking full account of those negotiations and above all, of its own demand that the jobs of Spain’s 6,000-plus state sector dockers be guaranteed after the new dock labour scheme comes into effect.
It accused the government of high-handedness in adopting the decree without giving it prior notice of its contents and said that the plan was “opaque” and of obscure origin.
“Everything indicates that it only seeks the welfare of large corporations,” CETM said in a media statement.
ANESCO also indicated that it had not been given prior notice of the contents of the government decree. It said that it would be carefully studying its contents but appealed in the meantime for “dialogue with all the agents involved, so as to avoid labour disputes, which seriously and irreparably harm companies in the sector and the Spanish economy as a whole”.