Port workers are set to strike for nine days in March after Spain’s cabinet passed a draft law to liberalise the hiring of port labour.
The planned overhaul would allow companies to hire their own personnel instead of unionised staff, with proponents claiming the current dynamics allow union workers to earn up to 50% more than they would in a free market.
Inigo de la Serna, the industry minister, said: “This is the only economic sector where there isn’t free hiring in our country.”
Spanish port workers had previously planned a three-day strike in February before the government confirmed it would put its port labour reforms on hold and instead open talks with unions.
Yet, as of the time of writing, the decision by the cabinet means strikes are set to begin from March 6.
Currently, the Spanish government is being hit by an ongoing fine from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over port labour practices.
In December 2014, the ECJ ruled that Spanish legislation on dock labour, in which cargo-handling companies are obliged to employ workers provided by a pool company as a priority, contravenes Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The court fined the Spanish government €15.6m (US$13.3m) last year for failing to implement changes, also adding a €134,000 (US$114,000) daily fine.
Failing to implement reforms will result in an increase in the daily fine, according to de la Serna.
Paddy Crumlin, president and dockers’ section chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), stated: “The Spanish government is tearing up the rule book with a callous disregard for Spanish jobs, Spanish prestige and international conventions. Their plans go beyond belief.”
According to Crumlin, any attempt to “dismantle the current dockers’ registration system” would be in breach of Spain’s international obligations under ILO (International Labour Organisation) Convention 137.
Ahead of the cancelled February strike, Volkswagen’s Spanish unit Seat had begun to clear room to store vehicles it would be unable to ship during the strike period, reported Reuters.
In a further complication, Spain’s governing party, the People’s Party does not have a parliamentary majority, meaning opposition parties will have to support proposals for the draft to become law.