Changing Ports

Ports are changing. Bigger ships, shifting trade patterns and new technologies. But what does this mean for European port workers?

The EU social partners in the port sector (ETF, IDC, FEPORT, ESPO) are investigating the changing face of European ports. In an EU co-funded project, they will explore the socio-economic impact of market-based and technological developments. The aim of this project is to understand these changes and prepare for their impact on terminal operators and workers.

Over the last decades, maritime transport has undergone significant changes. Ever larger ships mean that cargo-handling operations must be updated, bringing challenges for technological innovation, capital investment and the economic sustainability of terminal operations. In order to adapt to this new reality, terminals have to invest regularly in new equipment.

These changes have a direct impact on jobs, training, and working conditions in the port sector. For example, in order to handle megaships, terminals often implement automation processes. This results in a reduction of jobs in the sector. When existing ports are automated, this usually implies collective redundancies. Workers who remain must retrain to adapt their skills to the new environment. Handling bigger ships also requires adjustments to the way work is organised in order to cope with more frequent peaks and troughs in demand. Port work is changing.

In addition, the establishment and consolidation of shipping alliances has greatly altered the environment for terminals and port workers. The formation of these alliances makes terminals much more vulnerable if a carrier decides to change its ports of call. This has implications for employment continuity, investment decisions and for the socio-economic performance of the sector at large. It is key also to note that these developments have occurred in the context of an economic crisis, which has been dramatically impacting EU trade and ports since 2008.

To date, no study has analysed in depth the consequences of these developments on the socio-economic dimension of terminals. That is why the social partners have requested a consortium of external consultants to investigate the current situation, the strategies put in place by terminal operators, and the outlook for the future of the sector.

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