THE INTERNATIONAL DOCKWORKERS COUNCIL (IDC) GOES BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION AND WITHDRAWS FROM THE SECTORIAL SOCIAL DIALOGUE ON PORTS IDC demands that the European Commissioner take a clear and official position on the Spanish Decree Law that threatens to wipe out over 6,000 dockworker jobs, and asks whether the European Commission defends the use of public funds to pay for the destruction of stable employment on the docks. The IDC calls an international day of strike action in solidarity with Spanish dockworkers on March 10, which will see three hour stoppages in European ports and one hour stoppages in...
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Source: NaucherAnthony Tetard is the definition of a docker. A member of the Fédération Nationale des Ports et Docks (FNPD - National Ports and Docks Federation) which belongs to the powerful French Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT - General Confederation of Labor); he is also the European Zone Coordinator of the International Dockworkers Council (IDC). He was recently in the FNDP central office where we had a chance to have a casual chat with him.
“Port workers are proud of their jobs, they are true professionals that have always adapted to the evolution of their industry and are also conscious of the important role that they have in the world economy”. This would be a motto of his eloquent discussion, in which he also reinforced the situation of dockworkers in Europe, particularly those in Spain, where the European Justice and the Commissioner for Transport are attempting to introduce various measures.
In response to a Spanish parliamentarian, Commissioner Violeta Bulc has recently pointed out in the European parliament that the current Spanish government has done nothing with regards to the situation in the ports - despite the fines imposed by Europe - and that, in compliance with the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg, companies can now begin to hire foreign dockworkers (or workers from outside of the ports) to carry out operations.
Tetard forcefully explained that, “with regards to our Spanish comrades [from the perspective of the IDC], we are obliged to support them. We will talk to them about what they need, depending on the abilities of each union that is a part of the IDC. But there is one thing that is certain: we are never going to accept that their jobs are weakened, nor that the dockers of today or those of the future generations will suffer any kind of social repression”.
For Tetard, “European dockworkers are finding that the principal problem that confronts us is the different attempts of the European Commission to totally liberalize the industry, regardless of the reality in different countries. Each port is different, carries out different activities and is organized accordingly”. So in this way, “the training of dockworkers also changes in accordance with these premises, so it is therefore totally inconceivable to think that it will be possible to develop a single model for the handling of goods”.
The problem of shipping overcapacity
According to the Zone Coordinator, another theme that concerns European dockworkers, “is the strategy adopted by the main ship owners: they have created excess capacity and now appear forced to set up alliances in order to limit the number of European ports that ships call in to, which places enormous pressure on the port operators when it comes to reducing costs and being more competitive”. In fact, according to Tetard, “they are trying to reduce costs through the reduction of personnel and bringing the gains of the dockworkers into question” and, “the worst thing is that they are covered by an ultra-liberal European policy that has been imposed on member states like those of Greece and Portugal”.
The question is: Is the work of dockworkers respected in Europe? For the union leader “respect for dockers, either from companies or governments, is only achieved when they see the strength that we represent”. When the companies become weak they “immediately take advantage of the opportunity to deregulate dockers’ work. And the governments permit this, leaving some workers defenseless who then find themselves with worse conditions for their jobs, as is the case in Sines in Portugal or the COSCO terminal in Piraeus”.
In this field “the only way to achieve success is to demonstrate our unity and solidarity, and not just within the region of Europe, but also much further afield. Last July the 7th was a success. It was actually a message to the ship owners and operators around the world to make them understand that we have no intention to stop being who we are and we will keep doing what we do”.
As leader of the ports section of the CGT, Anthony Tetard also analyzed the situation in his country: “In France, the current situation is very complicated, now with the “Labor” Law imposed by the government which is based on the model of control enforced by Europe in order to break the social model of France. Dockworkers continue to be one of the major forces of opposition and these actions on labor matters are clearly led by a government that attempts to repress the unions, they are trying to muzzle us; but this is a mistake by those who do not know us”, he warned.
Importance of training and safety
With regard to training and safety, these are “the two questions that are the most importance to us, because our profession involves hazardous situations and many of our comrades have lost their lives at work. One docker from Amberes was recently killed after being crushed by a fork lift truck”. For this reason we believe in training that is specifically adapted to each port; and the measures that must be applied for the protection of port workers are our priorities”.
As well, “we are also present on the European committee for social dialogue with ship owner representatives to ensure the best conditions of work aboard the ships, for we have already seen too many accidents that have occurred on board”. Furthermore, “we also work for protection against exposure to toxic substances and fumigation pesticides”.
IDC General Assembly in MiamiThe IDC general meeting in Miami, Florida (United States) from the 26th to the 29th of September is an important moment for dockworkers, as “it will see one of the largest number of participants since the IDC began in 2000, especially because we have experienced growth of around 50 percent in the last two years”. From Florida “we are going to draw up a balance sheet of the situation in the different areas of the world and we hope to decide on our strategy for the next two years in order to continue strengthening our ties and oppose the attacks that we are suffering. We also want to keep moving forward in the improvement of our conditions of work in the ports, especially in Africa and South America, where there is an enormous task for us to undertake”.
This meeting will also debate the problem of automation in container terminals: “We will be dedicating one day specifically to this question with the idea of defining a strategy that faces up to the dogmatic ideology of the companies that intend to automate their facilities so as to get rid of dockers at the expense of the quality of their service and the performance of their ports”.
While organizing in defense of workers, “we support the introduction of new technologies that help to develop our work but we are opposed to placing thousands of jobs at risk”. In this regard, “we believe that this battle is extremely important for the future of our trade and that this is not the most appropriate solution for satisfying the development of maritime transport”.