Rotterdam dockers unite in automation row

Dutch dockers rally to voice concerns over potential loss of jobs due to new automated Maasvlakte 2 terminals

Rotterdam dockers held a rally in the centre of the city today to voice their concerns over the potential loss of jobs from the opening of Maasvlakte 2's new automated facilities at Europe's busiest box port.

With the Rotterdam Port Authority celebrating its annual 'port day', at which it addressed the wider community on how the port had performed over the past year, unions took the opportunity to draw attention to the impact of the opening of both APM Terminals Maasvlakte 2 and Rotterdam World Gateway.
Union members not scheduled to work were joined by fellow longshoremen from Belgian, Spanish and Norwegian ports, as part of a 900-strong crowd calling for fair negotiation on job security. Speaking at today's rally International Transport Workers' Federation president Paddy Crumlin said that workers from both sides of the globe descended on Rotterdam to unite in the struggle for decent pay, better work condition and job security in the face of automation.
The ITF and affiliated union FNV Havens claim that the new terminals will result in the loss of as many as 1,000 jobs at the port and reduced working conditions as a result of an increase in automation and the expansion in capacity from Rotterdam World Gateway and the construction of Maasvlakte 2. "When taking decisions on port expansion neither the administration nor the port authority in Rotterdam has taken into account the impact it could have on employment, on normal working families in this city," said national secretary of FNV ports in the Netherlands, Niek Stam. "We want to work
with our employers and port authority to try and find joint answers to the problems workers are facing such as the threat of losing jobs and overcapacity"
"But management just doesn't seem to be interested. Our priority is dialogue and all parties moving forward positively together. Another issue is to secure a collective bargaining agreement for workers at RWG to secure a level playing field in the industry. "That's why we're holding this rally," he said. In response, the Port of Rotterdam Authority, while understanding the concerns of workers, said that its view and that of the terminal operators is that it will not be a case of too many workers before at least 2016. "In 2015 the new terminals are still starting up and it will be quite busy at the other terminals," the port authority said in a statement.
However, the port authority added that it was not unreasonable to expect that a number of workers would become unemployed in 2016-2017, although it was hard to determine exactly how many this would be. That depended on how quickly the new terminals were fully operational, how the economy developed and how much traffic the Rotterdam terminals attracted from other ports, said the port authority.
Earlier this week, Rotterdam World Gateway managing director Ronald Lugthart said that he expected the terminal to be operating at full capacity by mid-2016, while APMT anticipates its own facility to reach its full second phase capacity in the same year. While the terminal operators are responsible for their employees and subsequent labour contracts, the port authority said that its primary aim was to stimulate and facilitate a smooth transition in the next years.
The port authority said that it wants to use 2015 to analyse this issue with the terminal operators and look for possible solutions. Mr Lugthart also sympathised with the unions and their right to demonstrate but he also said that they should respect the vision shared by those at RWG.
He added that RWG has been straight with the unions from the start stating clearly that it would be splitting its activities between manual and automated processes, and that it would subcontract work with companies that are well experienced with collective labour agreements in addition to internal workers.
"It is up to the people that are working directly for RWG if they want to have a collective agreement with a union, it is not up to the management if the employee doesn't want to have one," he said. "We recognise unions we always have done and the door is always open to discuss and speak with them."
However, he said that the "old days" are gone and that as many as 65% of its own staff are not subcontracted and originated from terminals within the port of Rotterdam and they have all accepted the individual labour conditions. APMT, meanwhile, has already agreed a collective bargaining agreement with its employees, which Frank Tazelaar, managing director for APMT Maasvlakte 2, believes they are relatively happy with. "Because we established this collective agreement over a year ago we are in a peaceful environment, and we feel we have constructive dialogue with our employees," he said. "What they (unions) are not disputing today is the affect from our opening as we have an agreement in place." Today's demonstration has not affected port operations.

(Linton Nightingale, from "Lloyd's List", 17/12/2014)


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