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Published: 19 March 2017      

Defiant Spain rocks Europe

The Spanish Parliament has voted down reforms to dock worker regulations demanded by Europe

In Spain dock worker hiring is regulated by the SAGEP model and the minority government led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy introduced a decree to reform the sector.

Under the current set-up, domestic or foreign companies can hire dockers to load and unload ships only from specifically-established organisations known as SAGEPs that select, train and provide personnel.

Two years ago, following an investigation by and reference from the European Commission, the European Court of Justice ruled that the model breached EU competition law, obliging Spain to introduce reforms.

In the event, the Decree, which would grant companies complete freedom of hire and allow them to contract workers wherever they want, from within Spain or elsewhere in the EU under freedom of movement rules, was defeated, with 175 votes against, 142 in favour and 33 abstentions. Mr Rajoy's Peoples Party has just 137 seats in the 350-seat lower House of Parliament.

The reforms have been fiercely opposed by Spain's dockers, who have been threatening to stage nationwide strikes, but have held back pending the outcome in Parliament.

The ITF has hailed "this amazing victory" for Spanish dockers. ITF President and Dockers' Section Chairman Paddy Crumlin said in London: “This just shows the power of the dockers in Spain and I congratulate them for making the government back down. Anyone who cares about Spain, Spanish jobs and its international standing knows that this plan stinks to high heaven. But it took the steadfast opposition of the workers, with international solidarity behind them, to make the politicians stand up and defeat this measure.”

ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith added: “It's clear that this is not the end of the attacks to conditions, so while the ITF congratulates the Spanish dockworkers on their victory and thanks the hundreds of affiliates around the world who provided strong solidarity, we know we must prepare for the next round if attacks in Spain in the coming months.” ETF Political Secretary for Dockers and Fisheries Livia Spera said: “The battle of the Spanish dockers is a battle for all workers in Europe. If the government had been allowed to get away with this it would have been yet another aggressive and destructive neo-liberal economic plan. On behalf of all workers in Europe, we congratulate our affiliates and all the Spanish dockers on their victory. We are proud of them and of their tireless struggle for a fairer transport sector in Europe.”

The debate about the SAGEPs will go on. On one hand they are considered as "closed shops" that perpetuate inefficiencies and overmanning. On the other hand, they ensure basic standards of training and safety and prevent cowboy operators entering the market. On top of that, Spain's legislators have, at least for now, In effect reasserted the primacy of national over European law. This is a political bombshell, but a move that many port companies opposed to the Port Services Regulation will welcome,

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