Two years fighting is a long time

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Oslo havn oktober 2015

1st November, it was two years since the Norwegian dock dispute began. Why has it been so long?

There is, unfortunately, no point in believing that this dispute will be resolved tomorrow or even in the near future.

The photo above is from the port of Oslo.

Clearly no-one, even the biggest dreamers, thought that the boycott that the Norwegian Transport Workers Federation (NTF) started at Risavika Terminal would last this long. The NTF had no choice two years ago. The employer at Risavika refused to sign the collective bargaining agreement and the union was faced with no other choice but to take up the fight.

No sooner had the conflict begun on 1st November 2013 than it started to spread, with disputes occurring in many other ports around the country.

First in Tromsø and Mosjøen, where dockers embarked on sympathy strikes to support the demand for a collective bargaining agreement in Risavika. In Tromsø, police and the courts were used to protect the strike-breaking activities of Norlines. In Mosjøen, the dockers were locked out from their workplace in May 2014 when they protested at Mosjøen Industriterminal after the company withheld their wages. The dockers in Mo i Rana are also being harassed, and the company Holship in the city of Drammen are refusing to enter into an agreement with the dockers.

The Norwegian version of this artcle.

In Oslo, the conflict intensified in early in 2015. The Turkish firm, Yilport, who won the concession bid to run the container port and began operations on 1st February, refused to accept the dockers’ collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the dockers lost around 60% of their work. In May the other employers in the port of Oslo, who are still party to collective bargaining agreements that aren’t up for renegotiation till next year, followed suit and also stopped using the dockers. A further 30% of work was lost.

Read also: Tough dockers stand their ground

The attack on the dockers in Norway was planned. A strategy was developed to get rid of a group of workers who stand in the way of social dumping at sea and on land.

Evidence that this attack was planned is well documented in the strategy document that was adopted by the Oslo port authority (Oslo havn KF), the politically appointed board that administers the city of Oslo’s interests in the port, in December 2012. The strategy notes weren’t revealed until a year later. As well as the directors of the port authority, there were also three key players from the employers’ side involved in the design of this strategy; the then administrative director of NHO Logistikk and Transport (department of transport and logistics within the Norwegian Employers’ Association, NHO), Tom Rune Nilsen; the lead negotiator in the same department, Thor Christian Hansteen, and not least, Oluf Moen, who is both CEO of Dampskipsexpeditørenes Forening (Dampen, the local branch of the NHO employers’ association in Oslo) and CEO of the company that employs the dockers. NHO obviously used their top people.

Four excerpts from the strategy document:

“…stop overtime for dockers so as to push forward a negotiated solution.”

“…through pricing of different operations, Dampen (the employers’ organisation in Oslo) can make sure that there is less work, initially terminal work, for the dockers.”

“…wondering whether future contracts with operators at Sjursøya can be formulated so that the preferential right of the dockers would not apply there.”

“…what will it take so that new operators do not ‘inherit’ the agreement’s provisions on the dockers’ preferential right to work?”

No doubt that the attack on the dockers was well planned. The powers opposing the dockers were and are strong. The NHO has a clear strategy with the aim of both getting rid of the dockers and their collective bargaining agreements along the whole of the long Norwegian coast!

But how will NHO, ship owners and the other actors in the Norwegian ports get rid of the dockers? The simple answer is that the dockers are like sand in the machinery of capital!

But let us be more concrete.

  1. ILO Convention 137, that guarantees the priority of registered dockworkers to do dock work, is what really pisses off NHO and others. It sets limits both on the behaviour of management and the pursuit of profit. Not least by throwing a spanner in the works for large scale social dumping, both at sea and on land.

ILO Convention 137 was ratified in Norway in 1974.

2. One result of the Convention is that the dockers are as good as 100% unionised, something that makes them a stronger force in the workplace. Additionally, the dockers are employed through an office that is enshrined in the collective bargaining agreement between NHO and the Norwegian Transport Workers. This office is a so-called ‘not-for-profit’ company. The dockers don’t make a profit. The employers don’t like this at all.

3. The dockers represent continuity and expertise. Their job is to load and unload different ships with different cargo, something that requires knowledge and understanding of both machinery and goods. This expertise makes the dockers highly skilled professionals.

Without these professionals, safety levels in ports would be reversed and insecure employment would become a reality. The dockers are standing in the way of a flexibility that undermines health, environment and safety work that has been built up over many decades.

4. Since 1948, the dockers have played an important role in fighting for better pay and conditions for seafarers. So it’s not without reason that ship owners the world over want the dockers to disappear. The dockers have been the ones refusing to work un-unionised ships to get collective bargaining agreements in place on board. The dockers have been absolutely crucial and central in the fight against underpayment, repression and social dumping at sea.

Solidarity has been, and continues to be, an important part of the dockers’ job.

—–

The battle the dockers are fighting is a just one. It is a struggle by the dockers who are defending a decent work life and fighting against social dumping. Those on the other side want social dumping and weakened bargaining agreements.

The dockers are defending the trade union movement’s position and they deserve all possible support. LO ( Norway’s national trade union organization) and others have to use their potential power to put NHO and the employers in their place. The time for solidarity is overdue!

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Solidarity with the dockers!

English translation: Jessica Fenn Samuelsen

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