EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS PORT LIBERALIZATION DIRECTIVE
The European Parliament today adopted a controversial port liberalization directive backed by the European Commission and governments of the European Union by a vote of 391 to 141, despite opposition from dockworkers unions.
The parliament adopted amendments to the initial proposal, including a rule that makes it compulsory for port services providers to be authorized by the port authority, according to certain criteria.
The port directive opens port and stevedoring services in European Union ports to more competition. It also allows “self-handling” of ships by employees of shipowners.
Patrick Verhoeven, secretary general of the European Sea Ports Organization, welcomed the decision of the European Parliament to adopt the legislation.
He said rules on transparency for the ports are a positive development, but added the European Sea Ports Organization would have liked pilotage services to be included in the scope of the port directive. Such services will not be affected by the liberalization legislation.
Verhoeven said much would depend on how port authorities implement the authorization system.
During the parliamentary debate, Georg Jarzembowski, a European People’s Party/European Democrats member, criticized the proposed rule on self-handling, whereby port users provide their own services, such as loading and unloading ships. Jarzembowski warned that if self-handling is allowed to be carried out by land-based personnel employed by shipowners, it could lead to cheaper, unqualified workers, often from non-EU countries, displacing skilled professional dockers or technical staff.
Loyola de Palacio, vice president of the European Commission, replied that social and environmental standards would have to be met under self-handling. The fear of social dumping was unjustified and EU rules on safety and qualification would be enforced stringently, she said.
De Palacio rejected the suggestion that the directive would lead to “social dumping.” She said she was confident that it would, in fact, lead to the creation of more jobs in ports. Any company entering the market would have to respect existing national social rules.
On self-handing, she said the idea was to introduce competition between land or sea-based companies employing regular full-time workers, and not resorting to casual labor.
De Palacio underlined the importance of increasing competition between ports to end the monopoly situation that exists in certain member states.
“Does anyone support the retention of a monopoly as the best solution for the future?” she asked members of the European Parliament.
She believes healthy competition between ports would generate improvements and bring about cost reductions.
The European Transport Workers’ Federation on Tuesday accused the European Commission of not understanding the risks of the port reform.
“What is not said is that not all EU countries have regulated dock work,” the union said. “What is not explained is how having seafarers replacing dockers in doing their work will create jobs.”