ETF dockers call for joined-up thinking from port authorities

9 Jul 2018

090718_Livia ports symposium

On 28 June 2018 the ETF Dockers section was invited to speak at the symposium on European Port Policy. As unions are not always given a voice in similar events, we were pleased to share our thoughts! Our focus was the way port policies and governance should address the future of dockwork.

Our key message was: we accept that ports have always changed, grown and evolved. However, even in a context of increasing automation, we are determined to protect port employment and working conditions. The port workers of the future will be different, but we do not believe in ports without people. Port workers are ready and willing to be an actor in this change. Engaging workers in plans for the future of ports and dockwork is much better than imposing one-side change.

We also underlined the importance of rebalance the relationship between ports and the shipping industry. Shipping policy and the behaviour of the shipping sector probably influence and shape ports more than any port policy at European or national level. Policies and dialogue must evolve and become more maritime.

Finally, we should consider the role of port governance in supporting the social dimension of European ports. This is not always successful. For example, dialogue between the trade unions and the port authorities is still unsatisfactory in many cases. Ironically, we sometimes have a more developed dialogue with the terminals, which pursue their own private interest, than with port authorities, who are mainly public bodies and should pursue the public interest.

We still see that a key aim for ports is to boost regional economies and create jobs. Port authorities should remember this, when they decide on new projects. At the very minimum, when they take strategic decisions about the port, they must consult and involve trade unions. Any port vision must take into account how these decisions impact port work.