Spanish parliament defeats government plan to deregulate hiring of dock workers

Spanish lawmakers on Thursday defeated a decree that would deregulate the hiring of dock workers at the county's ports, in a blow to conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's minority government.

Spanish parliament defeats government plan to deregulate hiring of dock workers
Shipping containers and cranes dockside at the "Terminal de Contenidors de Barcelona SL" (TCB) cargo terminal. Photo: AFP

The proposed reform, fiercely opposed by dockers who threatened to stage a nationwide strike that would hurt exports if it went ahead, was shot down with 175 votes against, 142 in favour and 33 abstentions.

It is the first major defeat for Rajoy's Popular Party, which has since October headed a minority government that has just 137 seats in the 350-seat lower house of parliament.

The cabinet gave the green light to the decree more than two years after the EU Court of Justice  ruled Spain must reform the sector, or face sanctions.

Currently, domestic or foreign companies can only hire dockers to load and unload ships from specific, already-established Spanish groups known as Sagebs that select, train and provide personnel, and no other firm.

The decree would allow companies to contract workers wherever they want.

“It is a European directive that we must follow,” Rajoy said ahead of the vote in parliament on the decree.

“We have delayed its approval, we have given all the time in the world to reach an agreement.”

Spain's 6,150 dockers fear that opening up the sector to competition will put their jobs and salaries at risk.

Over 60 percent of Spain's exports pass through the country's 46 main ports.

Spain, with its nearly 6,000 kilometres of coastline, is also a key transit point for exports from Europe to the rest of the world.

The International Dockworkers Council (IDC), an umbrella group of 91 unions in 41 countries, has also threated to stage coordinated strikes around the world in a show of support for Spanish dockers.


Spain bags rare current account surplus

Spain recorded a current account surplus in January-June this year for the first time on record as exports and investor confidence in the recession-hit country strengthened, officials said.

Spain bags rare current account surplus
A worker checks a car at the Seat factory in Martorell near Barcelona.

The current-account balance, the broadest measure of a country's trade and financial exchanges with the outside world, showed a surplus of €1.357 billion ($1.8 billion) for the first half of 2013, the central bank said.

That contrasted sharply with a shortfall of nearly €17 billion in the same period last year.

"This change mainly reflects the notable improvement in the trade deficit, followed by an improvement in returns on investments and services," the Bank of Spain said in a statement.

It was the first time Spain had recorded a surplus for the first half of the year since current records began in 1990, and its first half-yearly surplus since 1997.

Spain's conservative government says the economy, the eurozone's fourth-biggest, is heading out of its two-year recession. The latest growth figures showed the pace of economic contraction slowed in the second quarter.

Friday's data also indicated strengthening investor confidence in Spain, which last year turned to its eurozone partners to bail out its banking sector but resisted pressure to seek a full sovereign bailout.

Spain recorded an investment inflow of €39.8 billion in the first half of 2013, compared to an outflow of €225 billion in the same period last year.

In trade, the shortfall of exports to imports was less in the first half of 2013, shrinking to €2.71 billion from €15.65 billion in the first half of 2012, the bank said.

Spain's services sector increased its surplus to €17 billion from €15.19 billion a year earlier.

In another key sector, tourism, the surplus grew by 4.7 percent to €13.88 billion. The industry reported a record number of foreign tourists coming to Spain in July this year.