European resistance to Port Services Directive

7 October 2005

European resistance to Port Services Directive

On Wednesday the SP invited a number of representatives of southern European harbour workers, including fitters, employees of piloting services and transport unions. During the meeting, which was chaired by SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer, it was once again obvious that there is virtual unanimity against the new Port Services Directive presented by the Commission at the end of last year.

French, Spanish and Italian representatives informed the meeting that on Thursday in many southern European ports strikes will be conducted in protest against the proposed liberalisation of port services. René Roovers, responsible within the SP for organising the party's work on the directive, expressed satisfaction at the unions' action: "The European Commission is scared to death at the prospect of social unrest and a reprise of the actions which led in 2003 to the rejection of the first proposal on this. The rapporteur, who is in the Christian Democratic group, thought he could just pilot the new directive into safe waters, but since last June's hearing the tide has turned against him. The directive has already hit the rocks in the Social Affairs and Internal Market Committees, both of which rejected it, and the same thing threatens to happen shortly when it comes before the Transport Committee.”

Erik Meijer and René Roovers called on those present to keep up the pressure on the rapporteur and other MEPs, many of whom are still hesitating over throwing out the entire directive. “We mustn't offer any let up,” said Mr Roovers. "We must exploit the doubts which can plainly be seen within the Christian Democratic group, so that in the end only the Liberals will be left to support the measure.”

Actions against the Port Services Directive

Those attending the meeting were all singing from the same song sheet: the Port Services Directive is unnecessary and would only lead to lower wages and loss of employment. At the same time the safety and quality of service provision are at stake. The Spanish representative of the Internal Dockworkers' organisation the IDC, Julio Garçia, described as “nonsense” the idea that European harbours are uncompetitive. “We are by far the lowest cost region in the world,” he said emphatically. “ The unloading of a container costs in Rotterdam at the most $90, little more than a third of the price in Hong Kong or Singapore. In the United States you have to pay $270 per container.

For the Commission this isn't about cheaper transport or services. We in Europe are already dirt cheap. What they want is total liberalisation and casualisation of labour. The directive solves none of our ports' problems and would benefit only major transport corporations."

The difference between now and two years ago is that criticism of the proposal is much more widespread. It is no longer only trade unions who are against liberalisation of port services. Roovers points to a recent damning report on the consequences the directive would have for Dutch ports: “The report is remarkable for two reasons,” he said. “First of all because it makes fundamental criticisms of the liberalisation of transport and service provision in the ports and secondly because it was written at the behest of the Ministry of Transport rather than the trade unions or the company which runs the ports.”

Representatives of the Netherlands' main trade union federation the FNV will be in Brussels shortly to witness the Transport Committee's debate and voting on the proposed directive.

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