To APMT Gothenburg's customers

2016-11-21 On Friday the 18th of November, APM Terminals Gothenburg issued a newsletter to customers about the ongoing dispute at the container terminal.

As the statement paints an inaccurate picture of what the conflict is about and even implies that the local APMT managment lacks the means to resolve the outstanding issues, we feel obliged to respond. Though we don't have the official channels to communicate with you, the customers, directly we hope this message might spread through the informal networks of our industry:

The framework

Firstly, we want to adress the issue of the national CBA in the Swedish ports, as it is not the cause of local APM Terminals Gothenburg Dispute but still constitutes a problem for the industry as a whole.

In short; ever since the Swedish Dockworkers' Union (SDU) was founded in 1972 our union has aspired to become a fully recognized stakeholder in the national CBA. The SDU is now the majority trade union among dockworkers in Sweden and organize an overwhelming majority of the blue-collar workers in most key ports in the country, like Gothenburg, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Stockholm, Karlshamn and Bottenviken. Thus, an offer to the national employers' association Ports of Sweden has persistently been on the table for a number of years:

The Swedish Dockworkers' Union is willing to co-sign the current national CBA, together with the Swedish Transport Workers' Union, thereby accepting all the rights and obligations that comes with it. That includes signing away our right to strike, in exchange for other legal means to protect our members' rights and interests in situations like these. That is how the Swedish Model works.

The pragmatic solution

However, since our offer to co-sign the national CBA has been consistently rejected by Ports of Sweden, we and the rest of the industry have been forced to find a pragmatic solution to the situation. Thus, in ports all over the country the SDU is involved in negotiations and agreements and our members participate as elected, recognized Health & Safety officers in making our ports safer for ourselves as well as for the customers. That has been the practice in the Gothenburg container terminal (where the SDU organizes some 85% of the dockworkers) for the last four decades, including under previous APMT managements. It is still the practice in the neighbouring Gothenburg Roro Terminal and Logent Ports & Terminals Gothenburg.

Evidently, the newsletter statement that "APMT will be in breach of the current CBA by making any type of agreement with Hamn4an [SDU Local 4]." is simply not true. None of our demands are aimed at undermining the current CBA's, pushing out any other union stakeholder or limiting the employer's capabilities to provide good service to our customers.

The causes of the APM Terminals Gothenburg Dispute

As many of you know, a lot of senior production managers as well as key white-collar workers have left the company in the last couple of years. In our view, this is in part a consequence of the new personnel policy that was introduced by the current terminal management less than two years ago. The company's new approach to it's employees - abandoning dialogue and inclusion for a policy of dictates – has of course also affected the dockworkers. In time it lead to a lot of unresolved issues of different character and importance piling up, creating a deep devide between the top terminal management and the workforce. Last winter we raised the alarm that a change of the personnel policy of APM Terminals Gothenburg was needed and initiated negotiations to try and find common ground for a different way forward.

Unfortunately, were met with little or no understanding and no concrete results came out of the numberous talks. By spring, the list of unresolved issues and broken promises was long, so our members decided that the union should prioritize and focus on the ones of principal importance. These issues were at the core of the conflict that erupted in April and May this year, which was then followed by a unilateral cooling-off period during this summer and autumn.

The issues at hand

In it's newsletter, APMT Gothenburg makes drastic claims about our demands, saying they are ”far beyond normal Swedish standards” and that they would ”heavily restrict APMTs possibility to plan and lead the business”. The management continues on to re-write and distort our demands:

  • APMT Gothenburg claims that we want to ”form negotiating delegations of the size considered necessary and to let the company finance these delegations.” In international media, CEO Henrik Kristensen even claimed that ”They want to show up with 6-8 people (...)”

These claims have no basis in reality. Nine out of ten times the SDU Local 4 is represented by our local chairman in the container terminal. At some negotiations, the union sends an additional elected representative as an expert on the area in question (regulation surrounding the casual workers' pool, the railway operations etc.). At rare occations when major work pattern changes are negotiated, we send one representative from each directly affected group (2-shift, Night shift etc.) to speed up the process. This is, contrary to the company's claims, standard practice in most Swedish ports and other similar workplaces. At no point during the last 8 months of negotiations have we demanded that all delegations would be financed by the company. Though many employers do appreciate the time and effort invested by it's counterparts to quickly find mutually agreeable solutions to new challenges or customer demands, payment for our negotiators has not been a priority for us.

Instead, the issue originates from the company's attempts to stop elected representatives from participating in negotiations and even prohibiting union officials from informing union members on ongoing talks. This behaviour is unheard of in most Swedish ports and indeed in most of the Swedish labour market. What we are demanding is simply an immediate stop to company interventions and sanctions against the union and it's elected representatives.

  • APMT Gothenburg claims in it's newsletter that we want to  establish a ”parallel safety organization at the workplace, competing with the one that is operating in accordance with the Swedish laws and collective agreement.”

Again, this is a distortion of facts. The SDU's members have elected Health & Safety officers amongst their co-workers in the container terminal for more than four decades. Our H&S officers have always been recognized by the company (including previous APMT managements) and trained in accordance with the law. They have been and still are a fully integrated part of the safety organisation, performing their duties in the workplace to this day (as can be seen on the cover of the latest issue of the APMT Gothenburg staff magazine).

The difference now is that the APMT Gothenburg management has announced plans to exclude all SDU H&S officers from the safety organisation, effectively banning 85% of the blue-collar workforce from influencing their potentially very dangerous working enviroment. This does not add up with the claim that ”APMT takes safety and security very serious (...)”. What we demand is simply that the company continues to recognize our H&S officers in their current capacities.

  • APMT Gothenburg claims that the company ”follow laws and regulations” and that the SDU wants to ”limit the company’s mandate to schedule vacation periods, parental leave etc. for employees.”

This is simply not true, which has been made very clear during hours of negotiations. This spring, our members received their notification of vacational leave in the second week of May. Some union members who had applied for parental leave during the summer as long as five months in advance, saw their applications rejected in the beginning of June, even though all legal requirements were met. The company's blatant disregard for the Annual Leave Act and the Parental Leave Act caused a lot of stress for dockworkers families. However, the damage is already done. We're not looking for an apology or any limitations on the company's capacity to plan production. What we demand is that the company recognizes that it has to act within in the framework of the law, even when it is inconvenient.

The three other oustanding issues in this dispute are:

  • 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.
  • That the five dockworkers who were promised compensation for extra work hours during a period of changing work patterns be paid immediately.
  • That our 60-year old member immediately receives previously agreed upon retraining for less physically demanding tasks. All cynical counter-demands for collective concessions regarding terms and conditions must be dropped.  

Offer of transparency

We are fully aware of the fact that many port customers and outside stakeholders are having a hard time deciding what to believe in this dispute, and that it is being implied that we would somehow have a hidden agenda. On our part, we therefore want to be as transparent as possible.

On the 3rd of November this year, APMT Gothenburg's CEO Henrik Kristensen contacted the SDU's local chairman Peter Annerback with two requests: Firstly, he asked the union to change it's representatives at the negotiation table. Secondly, he asked the union to draft letters of intent that could be discussed, edited and in the end signed by him personally if common ground could be found.

We agreed to both requests. Letters of intent are unilateral documents with no legal value but serves as moral commitments, which would be enough for us to call off all industrial action in the terminal. However, the lengthy negotiations that followed failed to deliever any results, neither in terms of editing the documents nor in terms of producing any written counter-proposal from the company.
Any port customer that is interested in seeing our actual drafts for these talks are welcome to contact our union office and we will provide them.

The question of mediation and the way forward

On the 16th of November the Swedish Ship Brokers Association published an article calling for impartial mediators to be introduced in the dispute. We immediately accepted as a way to break the current deadlock. We are still awaiting a response from the APMT Gothenburg management on the request for mediation.

In it's latest newsletter APMT Gothenburg claims that the dispute can only ”be resolved on a central level” and points to the national employers' association Ports of Sweden as the party to continue negotiations with our union.

The national employers' association Ports of Sweden on the other hand, regards the company and the SDU's Local 4 as the relevant parties.

So far, there are no new negotiations planned.