APM Terminals Gothenburg launches massive cuts on Monday

2017-04-02 The 3rd of April marks the start of an extensive programme of cuts in Gothenburg's container terminal. The austerity measures are aimed at getting rid of close to a hundred dockworker jobs before and during the summer.

Starting tomorrow, new work patterns will be implemented for the Night- and Day/Evening- Vessel shifts (handling the ships) as well as the Day/Evening-shift handling in- and outcoming containers in the Yard.

The new manning model

APMT Gothenburg's managment has also unilaterally, without negotiations or union involvement, developed a new model for manning where three (instead of today's four) dockworkers are supposed to continuously man two straddle carriers during each shift, while also performing other tasks. A blueprint for this massive programme of manning cuts was presented to the unions as early as January 2016, but seems to have been postponed when the company's offensive against the Swedish Dockworkers' Union (SDU) started that same winter.
The new manning model reduces the total number of dockworkers needed to continously man one crane, two straddle carriers, the crane tally and manual tasks from 9 to 8 persons. This places Gothenburg in the bottom layer in an international comparison with other modern container ports (for example: APMT Aarhus in Denmark uses 10 dockworkers/crane).

The manning cuts are being implemented at a time when terminal productivity is already extremly low, both in comparison with its previous years under private and public operators as well as compared to other container terminals with a similar capacity in Europe and around the world.
However, APM Terminals Gothenburg seems to be launching its efforts to drastically cut personnel costs as a plan that will also, in ways still unknown, increase productivity. In a company presentation for one of the Vessel shifts the current productivity had been calculated to an historically low figure - 18,5 containers/hour - but the company management stated that after the cuts and following layoffs in the coming months it was aimining to reach 26 containers/hour. According to APMT Gothenburg's management, the key to such a surge in productivity does not seem to be improvements of the current Navis computer system, planning, maintenance, access to cranes and machines or the overall climate of operation between the staff and the senior management in the terminal. Instead, the management is  focused on changing the way of thinking amongst the blue-collar workforce. The (poorly spelled) presentation states that:

"A change of the mindset and increased productivity must be reached to avoid consequences. All malpractice in relation to above mentioned issues and material will be documented by TOS [lower management] and reported [to senior management].

In a letter to APM Terminal's customers this week, the company management once again claimed to have an unnormal level of absenteeism in the terminal, despite the fact that dockworker applications for leave are turned down. Like so many times before, production failures were blamed on the dispute with the SDU. According to the letter, the union's industrial actions made it hard for the company to live up to its production commitments.
In response to growing complaints about long queues, the company management claimed that the terminal's overall capacity in the Yard would be increased by 20% next week as the programme of cuts is launched. This statement is true, if one disregards the following:

  • The utilization rate of the straddle carriers in production will decrease as the new manning model calls for an increase of driver changes during the Yard's opening hours.
  • The increased workload and increased exposure to vibrations amongst the dockworkers driving the straddle carriers will lead to a worse working enviroment, but hardly contribute to higher straddle carrier productivity.
  • The dockworkers that are made redundant as the workload of the remaining machine drivers is increased, can only contribute to a higher overall capacity if they man additional straddle carriers in the Yard. Today, all functioning straddle carriers in the terminal are already in use during the Yard's opening hours.
  • In APM Terminal's redundancy calculations, about 25% of the dockworkers in the Yard are regarded as redundant with the the new manning model. Therefore, an equivalent number of dockworkers will soon be layed off if the volumes stay at the current level. The company has presented a plan to lay off some 35 dockworkers with permanent contracts and around 60 dockworkers with temporary contracts (many of whom have been present in the terminal for over a year) during the coming months.
    This means that any company claims of increased Yard capacity is strictly theoretical and temporary by nature. Rather than improved service for the customers, a further decrease in service levels should be expected.

No regard for previous Health & Safety studies and no interest in the consequences for the employees

The new manning model is implemented unilaterally by the APMT management, without agreements with any trade union. In a message published on the company intranet the management makes clear that it is familiar with previous external studies of increased strains and exposure to vibrations related to a proposed increase of straddle carrier driving within the work rotation. These studies have clearly adviced against such steps in the current working enviroment in the container terminal. The company management has now, without the approval of the Health & Safety organisation, made its own amateur assesment that all previous problems have been handled and that the new work rotation will not lead to an increase of short- and long term injuries amongst the dockworkers.

Despite external expert advice, APM Terminals Gothenburg has refused to survey current injuries amongst the affected dockworkers before launching its new work rotation. The company has also disregarded all external recommendations that such changes should be thoroughly followed up within six months, and is now saying that any such investigation of the consequences amongst the workforce will have to wait at least until spring 2018.

Productions responsibility, the ovetime ban and redundancies

Regarding the issue of the terminal's poor production performance and the management's responsibility for this, a few things have to be clarified regarding industrial action:

The Swedish Dockworkers Union has conducted one (1) work stoppage at APM Terminals Gothenburg since late November 2016. The strike took place between 12.00 and 20.00 on the 24th of January this year. Since a few weeks back the SDU has issued a ban on overtime in the container terminal, but there are no limitations on the use of casual dockworkers between 07.00 and 16.00 on weekdays.
The current union overtime ban coincides with the fact that APMT's management has given notice about mass redundancies and is preparing to lay off just below one hundred dockworkers currently employed at concistent work patterns in the terminal. The majority union SDU has been barred from the redundancy talks and none of the affected dockworkers have yet received any official information from the company. The company is still claiming that the list of the dockworkers about to be sacked, which they claim to have negotiated and agreed upon with the minority union the Swedish Transport Workers Union (STWU), is secret. This contributes to a situation where a much larger part of the workforce is living with anxiety and the uncertainty about whether or not they will lose their jobs in coming months.

Changes of the work patterns

Regarding the new work pattern for the Yard, the company management have unilaterally decided on sequenced starting and finishing times within the shifts.This makes the operation vunerable to all kinds of unplanned absence (illness, taking tace of sick children etc.) when the early shift starts and during shift changes.

The Night shift working the Vessels was informed only last week that its weekly working hours has been unilaterally increased by +4,5 hours/week. The Night shift machine drivers are now expected to drive a straddle for a total of 8 hours per night during four consecutive shifts with no loss in productivity.

Regarding the Day/Evening shift working the Vessels there are still a number of unclear issues, but the general aim of the management has been to get rid of the six days of extra leave a year that the dockworkers currently have because their weekly work hours exceed the legal limits (38,75  h/week). This is achieved through shorter shifts and by advancing shift changes in a way that creates problems for a lot of parents leaving their kids at kindergarden before work.

The total number of dockworkers will be cut on all three work patterns. The process has already started as one of three Night shift crane gangs is being scrapped and a small number of dockworkers who've previously worked these work patterns are leaving their positions as of late March and early April. However, the bulk of the manning cuts will come into effect in late May and the beginning of June.

The SDU local 4's evaluation of the situation

During the past week, the minority union STWU's local officials informed the dockworkers of their view of the upcoming changes to the work patterns and the manning model. It was understood that the STWU has reached an agreement about the wages for the new wok patterns but not about the working time. However, the STWU will not oppose the new work patterns or pursue oustanding issues any further, stating that "they [the Swedish Transport Workers' Union] will sign at the central level anyway".
Regarding the new manning model there are no agreements between APM Terminals and the CBA stakeholder STWU. APM Terminal's management has unilaterally decided to implement these extensive cuts without agreements or even constructive negotiations with any trade union. The STWU's local Head of Health & Safety told the dockworkers that he might be considering to stop the new measures if a signed protocol of the risk assesment was not presented before Monday, but the statement was very vague.

It is clear that the dockworkers in Gothenburg's container terminal henceforth will have to rely on themselves, as they have in the past. The SDU, which organises some 85% of the dockworkers in the terminal and a overwhelming majority of the now affected employees, has been barred from all information as well as negotiations since last year. Thus, both the new work patterns and the new production model lack legitimacy amongst the workforce. The APMT management's austerity measures are ill-considered, will present grave long term Health & Safety problems and may also result in productivity and service levels dropping even further. This could accelerate the current trend of customers leaving the largest container port in Scandinavia, at a time when overall trade is increasing and neighboring terminals in the port of Gothenburg are extremely busy.

The only way to solve the current chaotic situation is to re-establish a constructive dialogue with the Swedish Dockworkers' Union - the trade union APM Terminals' blue-collar workers have actively chosen to affiliate to - and engage in good faith negotiations to restructure the whole production model in the terminal. New long term agreements, involving all affected unions, would lay the groundwork for a climate of cooperation between the company's management and its employees and start the process of regaining the customers' trust.
Today there are no indications that the APMT Gothenburg management is neither willing nor capable of breaking the downward trend, and similar decisions to unilaterally ax the manning of the shifts handling the Railway, the Empty Depot and the Gates are expected before summer. As of now, there is no solution to the APMT Gothenburg Dispute in sight.