Dockers' unions opposed to dock work reform

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The Government has published a working document, entitled "Maritime and ports policy at the approach of the 21st Century", for public debate. In the document it proposes a number of measures to deregulate dock work, and the National Federation of Dockers' Unions has criticised the lack of prior dialogue and is opposing the new proposals.

The working document which the Government has made available for public debate is intended to be a starting point for a new maritime/ports policy, based on recognition of the strategic role of Portuguese ports and maritime transport for trade and sustained long-term development.

For a new strategy, the Government proposes:

  • institutional reform of the sector, with a new organisational structure for the principal port authorities;
  • a new framework for the management of ports, which retains their operation in the public interest but permits concessions to the private sector; and
  • consolidation of dock labour reform.

The latter (begun in 1987 and extended in 1993 with the Social Concertation Pact for the Docks Sector, signed by the previous Government, the dockers' unions and employers' associations from the sector) would lead to the "freedom of employers and others (dock work companies and concessionaires, for example) freely to contract dock labour". In addition, "the numbers employed at ports as a consequence of the 1993 redundancies should not be changed, alteration thereto being prevented even in the case of further redundancies".

The National Federation of Dockers' Unions (Federação Nacional dos Sindicatos de Trabalhadores Portuários, FNSTP) is opposing these measures:

  • because it believes that the Government did not enter into dialogue before publishing its proposals, and the Federation most definitely sought to draw the attention of the political authorities to the social consequences of the reform; and
  • because it claims that the "deregulatory" measures referred to, breach the provisions of Convention No. 137 of the International Labour Organisation (ratified by Portugal), and run counter to the intention of the 1993 Concertation Pact.

The unions have organised joint meetings to debate the consequences of the new policy announced by the Government. The Federation has also published a joint communiqué with the Federation of Seafarers' Unions (FESMAR), which emphasises the spirit of solidarity between maritime and dock workers and states that they do not accept that the workers in question should be stripped of the dignity and professionalism inherent in their jobs.

For the first time, it has been publicly announced that dock workers are prepared, at an appropriate moment, to unite into a single union organisation. The history of the sector is one of numerous separate unions: eight on mainland Portugal, two in Madeira and three in the Azores, all separated by trade and port. However, all are affiliated to the FNSTP.

Reference

"Política maritímo-portuária rumo ao Século XXI - Livro Branco" ("Maritime and ports policy at the approach of the 21st Century - White Paper"), Ministério do Equipamento, do Planeamento e da Administração do Territorio (MEPAT) (Ministry for Infrastructure, Planning and Territorial Administration), 1997

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