New social dialogue committee in port sector

A new committee for social dialogue has been created for the European port sector. The committee, which held its inaugural meeting on 19 June 2013, will examine the challenges that this important sector faces and will work towards contributing to its long-term success. It aims, over the coming years, to discuss training and qualifications for employees; making the port sector more attractive to young workers; health and safety; and increasing the number of female employees.


The new social dialogue committee for the port sector is made up of representatives of the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) and the European Federation of Private Port Terminal Operators (FEPORT) on the employer side, and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the International Dockers Coordination Europe, which represent dockers and port workers in European ports. The committee held its inaugural meeting in Brussels on 19 June 2013.

The port sector is of great importance to the economy of the EU. It is estimated that around 1.5 million workers are employed in European ports, and the same number are employed indirectly in the sector across the 22 EU maritime Member States. The European Commission describes the EU’s ports as engines of economic development and sources of prosperity, saying that ‘more cargo, cruise ships and ferries in our ports means more jobs and new opportunities’.

Key challenges in the sector

The new committee will examine the challenges that this sector faces and will work towards contributing to its long-term success. One particularly pressing issue is the future shape and direction of the sector. Over the next 20 years, European ports are likely to experience a growth in traffic and will need to adapt to new generations and types of ships. Further developments are likely to include new energy trades in gas and renewable energy sources such as biomass, and logistical challenges in the area of terminal operations and how ports connect with their hinterland.

In May 2013, the European Commission presented a proposal for EU-level regulation in the sector to establish a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports (COM/2013/0296 final), to attract investment to EU ports. As part of an action plan (128KB PDF) that accompanied this proposal, the Commission states that it will provide technical and administrative support to the social dialogue committee to help it address these challenges. The Commission’s action plan (COM(2013) 295 final) notes:

To succeed and adapt to the changing demands on the workforce, ports must offer good working conditions and improve the quality of the working environment to attract skilled personnel. Industrial disputes that affect relations may damage the image and competitiveness of ports and should be dealt with proactively. Good social climate and genuine social dialogue between the concerned parties is required.

The Commission will, with the EU social partners, review the functioning and progress of the European social dialogue in the ports sector in 2016.

The sectoral social dialogue committee has drawn up a work programme covering topics such as training and qualifications, attractiveness of the sector to young workers, health and safety, and how the number of female employees in the sector can be increased.

It is expected that many new jobs will be created in the port sector in the coming years, particularly for younger workers. There is also a pressing need for different types of training to keep pace with technological development. Health and safety is also expected to be a prominent issue in coming years, as changes affect working conditions and create new risks and hazards.

Studies such as a recent fact-finding report, Port labour in the EU: Labour market, qualifications and training, health and safety (2.4MB PDF) published by Portius, the international and port law centre, will support the social partners in their dialogue.


The creation of this sectoral social dialogue committee is the result of many years of work on the part of the social partners in this sector. Terje Samuelsen, Chair of the dockers’ section of the ETF, said:

After six years of hard work and overcoming many obstacles, I am very happy we have finally arrived to the launch of our Social Dialogue Committee. However, this is only the beginning. The real work, to improve the sector and the living and working conditions of its workforce, is yet to start.

On the employer side, ESPO Secretary General Patrick Verhoeven said:

We are pleased that the social dialogue got started and we hope to reach concrete results soon that will contribute positively to our sector. At the same time, we must keep expectations realistic. This committee cannot and should not replace social negotiations and collective agreements at national or local port level. It will also be extremely difficult to deal with market and competition restrictions, given the specificities of individual cases.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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