Port of Valencia: Allegations of illegal, fraudulent, temporary contracting and anti-union dismissal in the stevedoring industry

International

10th June 2022
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Port of Valencia: Allegations of illegal, fraudulent, temporary contracting and anti-union dismissal in the stevedoring industry

More than two years ago, the Royal Decree-Law 9/2019, of 29 March, amended Law 14/1994, of 1 June, kicked off the new legal regulation of the workers' regime for the provision of the port goods handling service, by regulating temporary employment agencies to adapt them to the activity of port stevedoring.

Stevedoring work (loading and unloading of ships in ports) is particularly hard: the working day is closely linked to the arrival of ships at port facilities, which imposes discontinuous working days and an increased availability of the workforce. Serious accidents are also frequent, given the handling of very heavy and toxic cargoes, against a backdrop of business pressure to speed up activity and maintain the flow of goods that fuels world trade.

We have seen it in recent months: stevedoring work is a particularly strategic area for the global economy, as it represents an essential activity to ensure that international supply chains are not blocked and that goods and raw materials get to where they are needed for production and consumption. In an economy based on large international trade flows, transport becomes the lifeblood that ensures that inputs get to where they are most needed at the right time. Today, 80% of international trade moves by sea. In 1970, the total volume of goods transported by sea was just over 2.6 billion tonnes. In 2019, despite the pandemic, it exceeded 11 billion tonnes.

The port of Valencia is an important node in the global freight transport network. In total, the ports managed by the Port Authority of Valencia (Valencia, Sagunto and Gandía), moved just over 85.2 million tonnes in 2021, representing a growth of 5.4% compared with 2020 and 5.1% more than in 2019. In terms of each sector’s activity, 2021 was a year of unstoppable growth. The main sector was vehicles and transport elements, with 11.5 million tonnes. This was followed by the agri-food industry, construction materials and other goods, at close to 8 million tonnes. The most dynamic sectors in terms of foreign sales were energy products, with a growth of 73%, construction materials (+24.6%), iron and steel (+18.4%) and the agro-livestock and food sector (+17.5%).

The worsening of working conditions for dockers in Valencia, following the regulatory reform imposed in recent years, has been evident. The activity has been structured around two different ways of contracting: the permanent workers, who are part of the so-called "turno" (Translator’s note: “shift”) and who work for SEVASA, the port company in charge of the activity; and the temporary workers, who are part of the so-called "bolsa" (Translator’s note: “bag”), managed until now by the Temporary Employment Company Randstadt.

To date, the workers in the "bolsa" do not have permanent contracts, but have been rotated with work and service contracts of only a few days' duration, each time they were needed to load or unload a ship. Thus, the employment history of the workers in the "bolsa" shows years of sequential temporary contracts, with few-to-zero periods without contracting.

Through this system of rotating the workforce through positions that are actually structural, the legal regulation limiting the chaining of temporary contracts and determining the causality of contracting for work was being violated, forcing those who actually performed permanent functions to be presumed to be permanent. Moreover, the fact that wages in stevedoring are comparatively higher than in other precarious jobs, imposed silence on the workers in the port of Valencia. Nobody complained, even though the company had allowed itself to "sanction" wayward workers, at times when they were supposedly not even hired, leaving them out of subsequent call-ups.

However, this "omertá" (Translator’s note: “code of silence) of fraud in temporary contracts has also had its transgressors: Borja, a docker in Valencia, a worker in the "stock exchange", decided, with the support of the trade union section to which he belongs, to lodge the appropriate complaints with the labour inspectorate. The recent labour reform of December 2021 seems to have proved him right, and obliges the port to modify the contracts of casual workers to make them permanent. However, courage came at a price.

Borja was dismissed shortly after his denunciations. In other words, the company decided to "punish" him, leaving him out of further calls. The company did not agree to negotiate with the employee's union representatives or with the lawyer representing him. Borja claims that his guarantee of indemnity has been violated and that he has been subjected to a clear reprisal for his trade union activity. The hearing of Borja's dismissal has been set for October this year.

His fight for the application of the law, his fight against the duality of the labour market by denouncing fraud in temporary employment has been punished, Borja tells us, with a dismissal contrary to his fundamental rights. Enforcing the law is grounds for dismissal. Beyond the reforms of the articles of the law, the reality of the class struggle is imposed in the workplace. The employers punish the fractious and those who demand rights and decent working conditions, trying to break up the unions that stand up to them. To confront this affront to democracy and the rule of law, there is only solidarity among workers and consistent trade union action.

We leave you with the words of Borja himself, who kindly answered all our questions:

"My name is Borja, I belong to the trade union Solidaridad Obrera and specifically to the trade union section of the port of Valencia. My job is as a docker, and I want to publicly denounce a situation that has been perpetuated and allowed to continue for decades. This situation is obviously detrimental, both for the stevedoring collective and for society, and also clearly violates the current labour law and generates a condition of unfair competition towards other productive sectors and companies, which do comply with the regulatory framework in terms of taxes and contributions.

The situation is as follows: the pool of temporary workers in terms of the number of registered workers amounts to 472, and we are on work and service contracts that have been chained together for more than 5 years, with the obvious reduction in social security contributions that this entails. Furthermore, we do not have the same contractual conditions for the provision of services as the permanent staff, which means that there are first and second class workers in the port. Those who refuse to accept the conditions set by the Randstad management company are penalised with days of unemployment, without being hired, and deprived of both salary and accrued rights.

In the case of our organisation, we have brought this to the attention of the labour authorities and have filed the corresponding complaints. The response has been immediate. I have been suspended from work and pay indefinitely until I give in, withdraw the demands and accept the situation unconditionally. But we do not accept this situation and the relevant courts will resolve it when the time comes.

Randstad is a company located in the Netherlands and boasts of having invoiced the amount of 396 million euros, in the Iberian peninsula (Randstad Iberica) alone, during the first quarter. And yet it still has the shame to avoid social security contributions that support health services, and pensions for our seniors, among other things.

We ask for any possible support for our struggle, as we see it as a conflict that affects society in general, and we cannot allow that. In addition to evading taxes through financial engineering, they also force workers to collaborate in their direct attack on the funds that support the basic pillars of the welfare state, with the sole intention of increasing their already morally questionable profits from the exploitation of their business at the international level".

Solidarity is the weapon of those at the bottom, when those at the top decide that the law should not be enforced.

Article by José Luis Carretero Miramar
Originally Published by Kaos En La Red
Translated by Emma Hayes

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