Thursday, September 25, 2014

Modern Attitudes Make a Bigger Impact on Dock Labour than Containerisation

Global Outlook on Unionisation Varies Considerably as Technology Reinvigorates Port Handling Techniques
Shipping News Feature

UK – MOROCCO – The difference in labour relations between ports around the world has rarely been more marked than at the present time. Whilst many in more exotic locations tend toward what is thought of as a conventional modus operandi, despite the global spread of containerisation, western ports are becoming increasingly modernised with technology replacing many of the dock workers original skills together with a reluctance to be part of the herd. We pointed out in yesterday’s piece how the installation of the latest freight handling equipment in Rotterdam’s new Maasvlakte 2 terminal has shaken the unions which see traditional territory receding as the nature of jobs change radically.

Following two years of what the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) calls ‘difficult’ negotiations between an ITF-affiliated union in the Port of Tangiers, Morocco and global network terminal operator APM Terminals (APMT) a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has resulted. Difficult hardly sums up a dispute which saw Said El Hairech, General Secretary of the Moroccan National Union of Port Workers, part of the national UMT trade union centre (Union des Syndicats UMT des Transports) imprisoned, apparently because of his union activities, before being freed following a worldwide campaign by the unions.

The new agreement lays out a commitment to social dialogue from both sides and respect for trade union rights and labour laws. Other stipulations include time and pay to participate in union activities and improvements around working conditions, health and safety, wages and training and promotion systems. ITF Arab World Regional Secretary Bilal Malkawi welcomed the news as a new era for industrial relations in the Port of Tangiers saying:

“This agreement hasn’t been easily won, there has been a long struggle leading up to this point. The union has fought hard during negotiations and the result is a positive one. We hope this is a signal of a new way forward for relations between the union and management. This is an opportunity for all parties to be transparent and open and fair. That kind of approach is good for business, good for customers and good for workers. Everybody wins.”

Said El Hairech himself expressed no bitterness for what for him and his family personally must have been a difficult time commenting:

“This CBA embodies what we want, dynamic economic and social objectives. Moving forward we need to establish controls and good governance for social dialogue and the respect of sector standards. The union and management are working towards a common goal here: ambitious economic expansion in the framework of a common perspective on social responsibility.

“Our members have stayed strong throughout this struggle, but we wouldn’t be celebrating the success we are today without the support of the UMT, the ITF, particularly the Arab World office, and the support of hundreds of dockers’ unions. They’ve all contributed to this victory.”

Contrast this then to another port, this time in Europe, for which relations with staff seem to have taken a very different tack. DP World’s London Gateway deep water container facility and logistics park set alongside the River Thames is the epitome of the modern docks. As we have pointed out previously the traditional role of the docker has altered radically with a female technician in high visibility suit loading 40’ boxes with little more than a joystick largely succeeding sweating men in vests laboring in the bowels of the ships.

After some tentative negotiations the relevant unions were given free rein by the Gateway management to sell their case for unionisation to the staff of the new port. Despite actively canvassing for support for several months until April this year it would seem that there was insufficient interest from the employees to make the case for a unionised operation and the labour representatives’ ardour has cooled to a point where it seems London Gateway will remain a relatively union free port, at least for the present.

Photo: Representatives sign off on the Port of Tangiers CBA.