Updated on Wednesday at 8:15 am with comments from union Svenska Hamnarbetarförbundet
Another 24-hour strike will hit the Port of Gothenburg, starting at 4 pm CET on Tuesday, according to a press release from APM Terminals in which the company informs that the talks between the terminal company and labor union Svenska Hamnarbetarförbundet have collapsed.
Negotiations between the two parties began on Wednesday last week, and as recently as Friday, word from the talks indicated that the negotiations were progressing in a constructive manner. But this was too optimistic, notes Henrik Kristensen, CEO of APM Terminals Gothenburg, in the press release.
"We quickly noted a very limited interest (to put it mildly) to agree on wording that could pave the way, once and for all, to finding a solution for how to work together to create a company based on customers' wishes and which can be adapted to the seasons, climate, sick leave or vacations," he says in the statement.
Henrik Kristensen points out that when, in spite of the ongoing negotiations, it has not been possible to get the opposing party to even withdraw the threat of a strike, the chance of agreeing on the actual points of contention were somewhat limited.
The union Svenska Hamnarbetarförbundet is similarly not pleased with the way the negotiations have developed. Asked about why the union is striking even though the negotiations are underway, Erik Helgeson, board member of Svenska Hamnarbetarförbundet, replies:
"Because we haven't gotten anywhere at all. If we had seen some form of progress we may well have been able to call of the strike," he tells ShippingWatch.
Is it not fair to demand that there be no strikes while talks or arbitration are underway?
"Absolutely, if one is approaching a solution or achieving a result. But as long as we're standing still, or even going backwards, there's no reason to ease the pressure," says Erik Helgeson.
Since Wednesday last week, the talks have been performed at central level, meaning that rather than the union's local branch and management at APMT Gothenburg, it has been the union's rapporteur and the employers' union Sveriges Hamnar who have been doing the negotiation, a process that has been described as arbitration even though there is no third party involved.
Erik Helgeson notes that this so-called arbitration has been constructive, but that APM Terminals has gone in a different direction.
"We were closer to a solution last Wednesday than we are today. The final offer on Monday from APMT Gothenburg was worse than the initial proposal last Wednesday, as they keep introducing new requirements which have nothing to do with what we're striking for," he says, pointing as an example to a delivery guarantee, which according to Erik Helgeson is beyond the union's influence.
Tripping up the sector
The head of APM Terminals in Gothenburg, which serves mainly as an export port, even goes so far as saying that the union's actions could at worst be described as "an attempt to trip up the Swedish export industry, which depends on functional ports in order to maintain a sustainable export." An accusation that Erik Helgeson does not downright reject.
"We are very aware of the consequences of this. Both for the port and the port's customers, including the export industry. We know that there are major consequences, and that we're losing work on this, and that it will take a long time to rebuild trust in the terminal. But you can't continue to have a dialog with someone who is not responding," he explains, stressing that the purpose of the strike is in no way to hurt the port's customers.
APM Terminals Gothenburg informs that it plans to resume the negotiations "sooner or later." However, the operator notes that this will not happen until the company is once again operating without major disturbances.
The next 24-hour strike is scheduled for May 24th at 4 pm CET. Erik Helgeson declines to speculate about whether this strike will also happen as planned.
"I hope it won't be necessary to through with it, but I's impossible for me to speculate on this today."
ShippingWatch has previously reported how the conflict between APM Terminals and union Svenska Hamnarbetarförbundet stems from, among other factors, the matter of whether the union should be allowed to decide who represents the union in negotiations with the operator.
"We actually pay their representative to be available and so it should be him representing them. They want to show up with 6-8 people if they need to and all we can say is that it's not an option, and there is no precedence for it on the Swedish labor market," Henrik Kristensen has previously told ShippingWatch.
"We just want a functioning negotiation model that allows us to send more people than just our spokesperson when we feel it's necessary. We're not looking to send an entire football team, just two or three, for instance to schedule planning negotiations in which we need expertise from various work areas," says Erik Helgeson.