When the EU Sectoral Social Dialogue for Ports was established in 2013, the European Commission welcomed the initiative envisaged to allow the social partners to discuss the challenges faced by the sector and agreed to provide technical and administrative support to the social dialogue in order to address these common challenges.
Acknowledging the importance of the port sector for the EU economy, both Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, and European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, László Andor applauded the initiative. Commissioner László Andor pronounced words that are still very relevant in these days of COVID-19 crisis: “We need to reinforce the role of social partners at all levels if we are to come out of the crisis and preserve the benefits of our EU social model and social cohesion”.
All social partners, FEPORT, ESPO, ETF and IDC, subscribe to these objectives and are engaged in the dialogue. Yet, more than seven years later, after listening to many experts invited by the social partners to provide their insights regarding the evolution of the EU port sector, it appears clear that an enhancement of the working conditions – including the improvement of safety at work – does not solely depend on the willingness of the social partners, particularly when work is carried out on board of ships. In this respect, the EU and national regulators’ role in making sure that EU rules are effectively implemented is crucial to avoid accidents that cost the lives of port workers.
Social partners in the EU Sectoral Dialogue for Ports do not want to limit their discussions to health and safety. They want more ambitious debates that are anchored in the real world and which also deal with the competitiveness of the sector and the level playing field within the maritime logistics chain.
Social partners want to instore a constructive, open and solution driven dialogue with EU regulators. They want to question them about regulatory options which have detrimental effects on ports such as the Consortia BER (which has been prolonged by the EU Commission in April 2020 in spite of a strong opposition from many stakeholders including social partners).
As stated in ITF’s recent publication that has been presented during the last Social Dialogue for Ports Committee meeting held on October 14th 2020, the joint withdrawal of ship capacity via blanked sailings allowed by the newly adopted Consortia BER has cascaded to ports, creating challenges relating to connectivity, peaks, reliability and technical unemployment for many port workers…
Can we then reasonably continue to hope that the situation of workers can improve if social partners discuss only about health and safety while, in the real world, employers and employees face the above-mentioned challenges?