The port sector never stops changing, and nor does port work. Dockers currently face several challenges that need to be tackled in order to safeguard their jobs and rights in the future.
First, the increasing automation and digitalisation of port operations are definitely among the most critical concerns, because they impact not only the number of jobs in ports, but also the nature of port labour. Technological developments are being implemented in a framework where incoherent port policies at both EU and national level have allowed the creation of terminal overcapacity in Europe.
Transnational and national shipping policies also impact port workers, especially when combined with the strategies applied by major actors in maritime logistics such as shipping companies. Issues such as state aid exemptions, consolidation of shipping alliances and the growing size of ships all weaken dockers’ negotiating position. Dockers’ rights are also undermined by attempts at national level to liberalise national port labour schemes, for example by dismantling labour pools.
Finally, occupational health and safety remains a priority for dockers’ unions, as ports remain one of the most dangerous places to work.
The Dockers’ Section has activities that respond to all of these challenges, and our work is structured around three priority areas.
Shaping the future of port work
The Section has a comprehensive policy on automation, and we campaign for a socially sustainable approach to technological developments.
The Section ensures that our affiliate unions are informed and ready to take action on the consequences of automation for their members’ work. We also help them plan for the impact of technological changes on union organising and collective bargaining strategies. The Section advocates for a fair organisation of port labour, for example by promoting research on labour schemes and campaigning for the protection of workers’ rights in case of a change of port operator.
Beside these activities within our movement to shape the future of dockwork, the Section is involved in a permanent dialogue with the relevant stakeholders and institutions. We promote policies and legislation that put people at the centre of the technological developments in European ports.
The future of dockwork is also about ensuring an improvement in occupational health and safety in Europe’s ports. To this end, the Section works to implement the priorities identified by the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee where we meet with port and terminal employers.
Campaigning for fairer European policies and legislation on shipping and ports
Together with the ETF Maritime Transport Section, we advocate for fairer shipping and port policies by tackling issues that have impact on port labour at both EU and national level: state aid regimes for ports and shipping, infrastructure financing policies, concessions, policies accompanying the technological and market-based developments in the maritime logistics chain.
Boosting our capacity for international solidarity
International solidarity has always been strong in the dockers’ movement. The ETF Dockers Section aims to utilise and strengthen this solidarity. We actively engage our affiliates in providing mutual support in case of disputes, as well as to provide a strong industrial base for our political campaigns at European level. Better involvement of young workers and women in our work is part of this strategy, as is the development of company-specific networks and sub-regional cooperation in strategic areas.