Extensive information about the resumed conflict at APM Terminals in Gothenburg, Sweden

2016-10-28 The SDU to resume industrial action from the 8th of November. Gothenburg dockworkers stepping up the fight for basic rights and a normal Swedish negotiation process.

The container terminal in the Port of Gothenburg, the largest port in all Nordic countries, has experienced problems for nearly half a decade since APM Terminals (APMT) obtained the concession. Management misjudgments and poor planning has led to repeated crisis’ caused by shortages of staff, insufficient access to straddle carriers, computer system failures, and confrontations with customers concerning poor levels of service.

According to the company’s own figures, these crisis´ have led to a dramatic drop in market shares, from 57% of the Swedish container market to 45% in just a few years. This contradicts regional trends, in which dominating medium to large-sized terminals have been shown to have increased their market shares at the expense of smaller container ports.

About a year and a half ago, APMT dramatically changed its’ personnel policies to adopt an anti-union stance. This stance is characterized by aggressive monologue with employees and their elected representatives. The white-collar groups were hit first, with de facto cuts in benefits and conditions, resulting in dozens of low-level and mid-level managers and office staff in key positions leaving the company.

Dockworkers were next in line, and found themselves gradually excluded from discussions and decisions concerning terminal production. Health & Safety (H&S) regulations were not upheld as the management of APMT in Gothenburg proclaimed it did not need the professional input of dockworkers. Further, national laws concerning vacation and parental leave were broken, dockworker tasks were sporadically delegated to other parts of the workforce, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA’s) and other agreements were not honored, outstanding issues were not addressed, and the company refused to explore any form of constructive compromise at the negotiating table. 

Simultaneously, APMT tried to dictate how many and which specific union representatives were allowed to participate in negotiations. APMT also hindered the efforts of elected union officials, barring them from informing and involving members in ongoing talks.

During spring 2016, the workforce ran out of patience: Members of the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union (SDU), which include 85% of the dockworkers at the APM terminal in Gothenburg, voted unanimously for industrial action. The goal was to secure their most basic rights and re-establish a normal Swedish negotiation process of dialogue and union participation in the workplace.

In April and May, the terminal came to a complete standstill during four 24-hour strikes which had a long-lasting impact on the entire port economy. The SDU actively sought outside mediation in the conflict and initially saw the participation of their union´s National President as well as the CEO of the national employers’ organization, Ports of Sweden, as constructive influences. After early progress, personal prestige at the top APMT Gothenburg management began to shine through and the company began backing away from its’ initial positions and compromises. 

Further information about this period can be found here.

After the fourth strike, the SDU was urged by customers and Ports of Sweden to hold off on any further industrial actions, in the hopes that, without the imminent threat of conflict, negotiations would continue in a constructive climate. The SDU agreed and called a cooling off-period to last throughout the summer.

Despite hopeful indications from Ports of Sweden, as well as senior managers at the International Maersk Group (Mr. Van Der Wel, Head of Global Labor Relations), there has been no change in the company’s approach to its’ employees or interaction with their trade unions.

Since then, and despite rhetorical optimism, local APMT management has been consistently unwilling to resume bargaining in good faith. Upper management at APM Terminals Gothenburg has refused renewed meditation from central parties like Ports of Sweden.

After the cooling-off period began, dockworkers were denied parental leave in defiance with Swedish law; several SDU representatives were questioned for participating in negotiations: and the SDU International Secretary and the SDU Local Vice President saw pay losses as punishment for negotiating during their work shifts. The SDU Local Vice President was told he wasn’t allowed to correct factual errors in the company’s presentation of the dispute, which the whole workforce was forced to sit through. The SDU Local Union President was, on one occasion, told he could not meet with members collectively inside the terminal even before their shifts started.

The dockworkers’ H&S organizations were excluded from risk analysis when the new computer system NAVIS was launched, and SDU members are now suffering from the frustration of truck drivers and customers in the chaos that has followed.

Furthermore, a 60-year-old dockworker, who the company previously agreed to retrain for less physically demanding tasks, is now being used as a bargaining chip. The union was presented with an ultimatum by APMT that the member would only be retrained (after 30+ years in the port) if the SDU signs a no-strike agreement and agrees to concessions concerning employment rights.

Therefore, the Gothenburg dockworkers have now decided to resume industrial action from 8th of November, including both new strikes and a ban on all overtime. The SDU is preparing national solidarity action against redirected cargo and Maersk Group operations.

The top management at APMT Gothenburg is investing heavily in what they see as a prestigious power-struggle, that may be extended to other terminals. The dockworkers, on the other hand, are fighting for very basic rights that would be taken for granted in most of the Swedish labor market:

  • Guarantee trade union rights
    The SDU demands written guarantees that the company will grant trade unions the right to freely form its’ negotiating delegations and to continuously inform its’ members on current issues and developments. Company dictates, interferences and sanctions must end.
  • Respect the jurisdiction and the right to our jobs
    The SDU demands an immediate stop to the company’s practice of sporadically delegating dockworkers’ or mooring crew’s tasks to manage reefers or secure ships to other parts of the workforce.
  • Honor standing agreements
    The SDU demands that dockworkers who were promised compensation for extra work hours during a period of changing work patterns be paid immediately.
  • Stop using sick or aging casual dockworkers as bargaining chips
    The SDU demands their 60-year old member immediately receives previously agreed upon retraining for less physically demanding tasks. All cynical counter-demands for collective ¨no strike”-clauses or concessions regarding terms and conditions must be dropped.
  • Re-establish systematic Health & Safety cooperation
    The SDU demands written guarantees of union H&S officer participation in all future risk assessments and accident enquiries involving blue-collar workers.
  • Acknowledge valid laws and contracts concerning vacation, parental leave, and time bank applications
    The SDU demands written guarantees that APMT will henceforth adhere to the time limits and rules in the Annual Leave Act, the Parental Leave Act, and the local time bank CBA. The stress and pressure inflicted on dockworker families due to delayed decisions and unlawful rejections this summer cannot be repeated.

We expect a long, hard fight. We know that APMT Gothenburg has unsuccessfully courted other terminal operators in the port of Gothenburg, in an effort to initiate a campaign of exclusion against the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union in all terminals.

Therefore, we are asking all fellow dockworkers unions around the world - especially the ones working in APM terminals or handling Maersk ships - for solidarity.

We urge you to come join us at the picket line here and to call on us to come to your ports to inform fellow dockworkers about our ongoing conflict.

If this dispute drags on, we also ask you to consider all legal and viable actions in your home countries and ports against Maersk containers, Maersk vessels, and Maersk terminals to increase the economic cost the Maersk Group bites for maintaining their current anti-union policies in Gothenburg.

Official contact emails: 

Eskil Rönér, SDU National President eskil@hamn.nu

SDU Local 4 Gothenburg info@hamn4an.se

Phone numbers to International Committee:

Erik Helgeson +46703654914

Martin Berg +46705932443