11th Dec 2023

Dock workers rampage against new EU bill

  • Dock workers argue that the new bill would lead to job redundancies for thousands (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Parliament is fearing fresh demonstrations by dock workers today (17 January), as the bill on liberalising port services is to be debated in the Strasbourg plenary.

According to parliament officials, over 6,000 demonstrators took to the streets at the French site of the EU legislature on Monday (16 January), while the docker's union representatives claimed that between 8,000 to 10,000 protesters attended the march.

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Twelve policemen were injured, one of them seriously, during the clashes.

The demonstrators gathered around the parliament just as its officials and MEPs were arriving for the beginning of the session, throwing metal objects and bottles at the police, who responded with water cannons and tear gas.

According to the parliament's spokesman "considerable damage" was caused to the building.

"We have come to make clear our anger at the fact that the parliament is again planning to debate and vote on the plan it has previously refused," Frank Leys from the International Transport Workers' Federation told EUobserver.

The bill on port services which favours opening up the sector to competition was rejected by MEPs in 2003, and in an amended form put back on the table by the European Commission last year.

But according to Mr Leys, the changes made to the original proposal are not sufficient to gather support among the dock workers.

"We have most EU countries represented in the demonstrations against the bill, and even people from the US and Australia came to support us as they also fear that if Europe allows to happen what is suggested by the new bill, it will influence their situation too," he said.

Mr Leys rebuffed the idea that European ports are currently in a poor economic state and that liberalising them could improve it.

"The European ports are the most efficient in the world and get the most amount of work done for the best money," he argued, adding that the liberalisation plan would cause loss of jobs for many workers and the overall worsening of safety conditions at ports across Europe.

Socialist, green and some liberal MEPs are ready to support the demonstrators and reject the bill on Wednesday (18 January).

Their colleagues in the transport committee already made their stance clear when they rejected the report favouring liberalisation, filed by German rapporteur Georg Jarzembowski.

He argues that the draft directive would increase competition in and between sea ports, as well as improve transparency rules for state funds in the area.

Last year's split in the transport committee was tight, and the votes seem to be evenly divided just hours before the final vote.

Monday's demonstrations were also supported by dock worker strikes across Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark, with serious disruptions of port activities.

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