ETF condemns abhorrent employers’ actions in the Port of Bilbao and stands with the striking workers

26 Nov 2020

ETF affiliate FeSMC UGT, active in the Port of Bilbao, has been involved in the process of negotiating the renewal of the collective agreement for months now. Progress has been made in several points that affect both working conditions as well as the efficiency of the service, clearly benefiting the companies as a whole. Despite seemingly good progress in negotiations, the union got a cold shoulder from the employers in August, with them completely changing their approach and attitudes towards negotiations.

Employers resorted to blackmailing and threatened the union with the dissolution of the Port Employment Centre that is at the core of the Spanish labour pool system in ports unless union accepts the following conditions:

  • Limiting the number of tasks that dockers have been performing up to now. The change would result in a 30% reduction in their activity and consequently affecting the employment of both permanent and temporary staff;
  • Keep using temporary employment arrangements, and keeping workers in precarious conditions, resulting in worse working conditions due to their temporary nature.

Following such an unacceptable attitude from management and lack of willingness to negotiate, the union called a strike in October.

The employers reacted to the strike in an utterly unwarranted way. They involved other public and private actors in intervening while spreading misinformation and putting the blame for the current situation on dockers, including:

  • Basque Competition Authority issued warnings about the exercise of the right to strike.
  • Employers launched a campaign to discredit dockers and their claims through the press by stevedoring companies and the port authority.
  • Police harassed striking workers and workers’ representatives.

Additionally, the employers took action to make it seem like the effects of the strike on cargo traffic are bigger than they are. They dismissed temporary workers and in doing that, they made it impossible for the permanent staff to cover the required minimum services.

Furthermore, in order to deactivate the strike, instead of resolving the existing conflict, the companies are urging the Government of the Basque Country and the Minister of Transport of Spain to establish a mandatory arbitration, but only concerning the issues of their interest.

Consequently, and given the evident lack of negotiating willingness of the employers, the workers were forced to continue the strike.

The union believes that there are other measures to resolve the conflict that are alternatives to compulsory arbitration, and the ETF joins the request of FeSMC UGT for mediation – requested by the union and pending acceptance by the companies. The employers have been using dirty tactics in this conflict to avoid any discussion on the rights of workers, and they must not be allowed to get away with such behaviour.

In the case that mandatory arbitration is considered necessary by relevant authorities, we believe it essential to address all pending issues, including issues pertinent to the Port of Bilbao dockers, and not only those that interest the employers.

To express support for FeSMC UGT, ETF addressed a letter to the Spanish Ministers of transport and work, as well as Basque Government, calling for mediation in this process and quick resolution of the conflict. The letter is available here.