Portugal // The dirty tricks against the Port of Setúbal dockers~ 4 min

Dockers of the port of Setúbal displaying banner against precarious work in the port.
Image via “O Estivador” (The Docker), SEAL’s blog.

By Duarte Guerreiro

During the last few years, the Dockers and Logistic Activities Union (SEAL) has become an example in combating precariousness in Portugal. Its flag has become synonymous with solidarity, mutual aid and fighting spirit.

A 3 month old strike

Over 700 dockers from the 8 Portuguese ports in which SEAL is represented (Leixões, Figueira da Foz, Lisboa, Setúbal, Sines, Caniçal, Ponta Delgada and Praia da Vitória) have been boycotting supplemental work for the last 3 months. We’ve already summarized the reasons for the strike when the last SEAL demonstration occurred. They are mostly related to fighting precariousness and the anti-union practices of the bosses.

The struggle of the “eventuals” in the port of Setúbal

SEAL has verified several severe violations of port regulation legislation since the beginning of this struggle, mostly in the port of Setúbal. The pressure placed upon the “eventual” workers of this port by the employers has been increasing as of late. The so-called “eventuals” – workers with daily contracts – include 90% of the workers that keep the port functioning.

These workers don’t get any kind of work rights, such as vacation and Christmas subsidies, rest days or even a right to social protection in case of disease or work accident. They are hired and fired two times per day. Some dockers have been in this situation for over 20 years.

A few weeks ago, some “eventual” Setúbal workers stopped operations, in accordance with SEAL’s strike notification.

Days later, those same 28 striking dockers received a notification to sign a termination letter. “Facing this threat, all the eventual workers threatened to stop working and the companies stepped back and annulled their intentions of carrying out a covert mass firing.”

Afterwards, the temporary port work company Operestiva – along with their related Sadoport and Naviport port operators – kept the workers under pressure with a continuous process of sending letters with individual contract proposals, which SEAL considered an “attempt to divide the workers”. This occurred “during a strike, which is illegal before Portuguese law”, the union says.

This intolerable situation led the dockers to declare a total stop in cargo loading and unloading in the container and automobile terminal of Setúbal.

The workers are refusing to work until the employers – the company Operestiva – agree to sign permanent work contracts with all precarious workers.

“The Association of Navigation Agents of Portugal, defending its companies, is complaining that they didn’t receive a strike notification. The workers replied that, if the precarious workers have no rights, they also don’t have the duty to announce the stoppage. ‘As we only earn when there is work, we will also only work when we wish to’, they argue.”

The media – from total silence to defending the bosses

Despite the fact that this labor struggle is going on for over 8 months, involving hundreds of workers all over 8 national ports, it seems that only yesterday did the media take notice that it existed.

With a few exceptions, most news items focus on the strike’s impact on Volkswagen Autoeuropa factory exports – since the beginning of the stoppage, 22 ships have been sent back and another 13 risk the same happening to them this week – while only briefly mentioning the dockers’ precarious situation. Meanwhile, the workers of Volkswagen Autoeuropa have publicly declared their total solidarity with the dockers, even if it affects their production targets.

SEAL threatens a complete paralyzation

SEAL alerted to the fact that a proposal was made yesterday to bring in temporary workers from the Lisbon port to suppress the lack of dockers in the Setúbal port. But the “Lisbon dockers, faithful to their principles, have refused to betray the fight that other dockers are carrying out”, as can be read in the communiqué published during dawn.

Seeing as the first attempt failed, the employers started approaching the Aveiro port workers to have them work in Setúbal. The technical director of GPA  – Port Work Company of Aveiro – Fernando Curval, sent an SMS to all workers. It was a summons to work illegally during 3 days, “being ‘hauled’ 300 kilometers, with the right to sleep in a strange bed, being paid a mystery amount ‘to be timely announced’, escorted in shame by security forces requisitioned from on high.”

SEAL is now threatening to completely stop all operation in the Setúbal port “in response to the announced placement of workers from the port of Aveiro.”

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