Friday, May 24, 2013

New EU Port Regulation Will Not Affect Cargo Handlers but Unions Have Freight Supply Chain Concerns

ETF Has Worries Over Status of 'Technical - Nautical' Staff Such as Pilots and Tug Workers
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – A ruling by the European Commission when it adopted a recent regulation has been met with a degree of concern by transport workers representatives concerned with further liberalisation within European ports. Whilst the ‘Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports – COM(2013) 296 final – 2013/0157 (COD)’ does not impinge on port labour organisation, and cargo handling is excluded from market access rules, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) says it is ‘extremely concerned’ as to how the proposals might affect others in the freight supply chain.

For its part the EU says that service quality varies enormously across the EU’s 1,200 commercial seaports which in 2011 handled around 3.7 billion tonnes of freight and points out three areas of concern. Many of the port services are subject to little competitive pressure due to market access restrictions, monopolistic or oligopolistic control, although justified in a number of situations, may lead to market abuses and in some ports users are faced with too much administration due to a lack of coordination within ports.

The ETF Dockers and Maritime Transport Sections have already started a joint debate on the future EU ports policy and are ready to join forces to make their voice and priorities heard by policy-makers and their principal concerns are for the regulations governing technical-nautical services, notably in pilotage, towage and mooring. A position paper on the Commission’s proposals will be issued in the near future after an in-depth analysis of the draft Communication and Regulation. Philippe Alfonso, ETF Political Secretary for Maritime Transport stated:

“Some ETF maritime affiliates represent workers in technical-nautical services. Our point of view is that any attempt to deregulate technical-nautical services should be strictly defined and controlled to avoid marine casualties that would pose a threat to the marine environment and put human lives at risk. Indeed, we should avoid a situation where safety at sea would be sacrificed to competition and profit with a view to serve specific interests rather than the broader public interest.”  

Once again the question of dock labour is the most thorny of issues with the unions as evidenced by the comments from the ETF Dockers’ Section Chair Terje Samuelsen who commented:

“Even if dock labour is not included in the new regulation it is clear that liberalisation of port labour is still on the Commission’s agenda. The strategy seems to have changed, as we have passed from comprehensive one-size-fits-all proposals to targeted interventions at national level. Furthermore, in its Communication the Commission clearly indicates its intention to come back on the issue of port labour in 2016. European dockers remain vigilant and are ready to fight back any attempt to deregulate their professions.”  

As usual the EU is trying to impose a level playing field for all competition which, although a noble intent, rarely works as well as its proponents would like. The intent however of discovering where public funding is subsidising ports to the detriment of others is something which is to be welcomed.

Meanwhile such talk from the unions is a little puzzling to many in the modern cargo handling environment, particularly in the UK after the major reorganisation of freight handling in Britain’s ports following the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme, as was covered in detail in our article looking at terms of employment within the country’s latest port, London Gateway.

The EU pronouncement may be read in full HERE.

Photo: Despite much changed industrial relations since the introduction of containerisation, disputes still occur in the UK as this picture from Unite the Union of a stoppage at Tilbury last year indicates.