The trade of Spanish goods both in and out of Spain, and across the globe, face being paralysed over a dockers’ strike.

Dockers have threatened to walk out over plans to reform the country’s ports sector to comply with European Union legislation.

The International Dockers Council (IDC) claims the reform will result in around 6,000 job losses across Spanish docks and has called for negotiations with the government and port employers, which it accuses of pushing ahead with the plan without enough consultation with workers.

A nine-day strike, which was due to start on March 6, has been put on hold as parties go back to the table to try and reach a compromise.  If talks fail, workers will walk off the job on March 10.

In a show of solidarity, the IDC has called for an international day of strike action on March 10, which will see ports in Europe stop work for three hours and those in the rest of the world for one hour.

But the IDC’s actions will not stop there. The organisation says that, together with its associated trade unions, it will also ensure that the ports of neighbouring countries will not be used for unloading cargo destined for Spain while the strikes are in place.

“This includes IDC affiliates in Marseille-Fos, France and Lisbon, Portugal and the ITF affiliate in Tangier, Morocco. Portuguese unions will also call on dockers in the port of Lisbon to ensure that no Spanish cargo is unloaded in the southern Portuguese port of Sines,” says the IDC.

“Furthermore, if this conflict is not resolved by the end of March, the IDC will investigate measures that will directly target Spanish foreign trade, both imports and exports.”

Braced for disruption

Shipping company Maersk says while it hopes to see a quick and positive solution for the current dispute it is braced for the strike to take place.

“We have developed a contingency plan to minimise the negative impact of the strikes to our operations and to the businesses of our customers,” a spokesperson told GTR.

“For Maersk Line, the terminal in Algeciras especially plays a key role as transshipment port. In case of a strike and consequent prolonged network disruptions, regretfully our customers are likely to experience service level deterioration and limited availability of their cargo.”

The action follow the government’s decision to change legislation to adhere to a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that Spain was failing to meet the requirements of the EU’s freedom of establishment principle.

Under current Spanish law, all dockworkers must be members of stevedoring societies, known as Sociedad Anonima de Gestion de Estibadores Portuarios (Sageps), which recruit and train port workers before making them available to terminal and cargo operators. The law also requires companies seeking to provide cargo handling services to join and financially support Sageps.

The ECJ ruled that Sageps limited employers’ options for sourcing workers, and levied a €15.6mn fine on the Spanish government last July, as well as an additional daily fine of €134,000 until changes are made to the law.

The new proposed law, which was revealed on February 24 and has 30 days to be approved by parliament, frees terminal operators, stevedores, and other port employers to hire non-union labour. It also removes the current obligation to be members of, and finance Sageps. The government has proposed a three-year transition period for the new system to come into play.

Critics say a reform of the current system is long overdue, as it gives local dock pools a monopoly on employment in Spanish ports, which results in inefficient and expensive work practices that are out of sync with modern ways of working.

Spanish ports play a key role in global trade as a hub for the transshipment of containerised cargo from the east-west trades to the rest of the world. In 2016 almost seven million transshipment container moves were performed in Spanish ports for cargo destined to more than 70 countries on different continents. In turn, 60% of all goods entering the Spanish market arrive via sea transport, according to Maersk.