Maritime community to witness protest against container terminal group over sacked dockers

South African port sees a storm of a different kind this week. 

Having seen its port closed last week during inclement weather Durban's maritime community is about to witness a storm of a very different kind as representatives from the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and other union bodies launch protests tomorrow at the African Ports Evolution conference being held there, against a large container terminal management group.

The Madagascan Government will be the main target of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and its affiliate the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), which will demand that the authorities immediately take all necessary steps to reinstate 43 dock workers sacked at the Port of Toamasina, operated by International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) as reported by us as long ago as February.

Since that time there have been worldwide demonstrations of support for the sacked men as unions fight to ensure they, and the workers, retain some influence over an industry which is constantly undergoing modernisation and increasing automation. Madagascar, having been suspended from the South African Development Community (SADC) in 2009, was reinstated five years later after steps taken by the Government of Madagascar to return the country to democracy.

The ITF and its associates say that the failure to reinstate the Malagasy 43, despite court orders recognising the union’s right to organise at the port, indicates that there is still more work to do to ensure respect for the rule of law and for the rights of workers and all citizens in that country. The sacked workers were employed by labour-hire company SMMC and summarily dismissed after undertaking union related activity, something their supporters claim is an entirely legitimate practice.

Now the port terminal managers stand accused by the labour representatives of sidestepping the question of union recognition by employing third party companies to manage staff who are employed full time at the company’s facilities. The protest in Durban forms part of global week of action by ITF affiliates within ICTSI’s global terminals and shipping routes, in a renewed international push against what is perceived as an emerging pattern of labour violations across ICTSI’s global network.

ICTSI’s Senior Vice President, Christian Gonzalez claimed this week that ‘ICTSI remains committed to the safety and welfare of our equipment operators’ and it’s time the company back up statements with actions. This argument however is scornfully rejected by the ITF whose President, Paddy Crumlin, commented:

“In outsourcing work to labour-hire companies, ICTSI believes it can avoid proper scrutiny and criticism for the wages and conditions of casual workers at its terminals. But everyone knows that ICTSI carries the ultimate responsibility for the working conditions of all workers at its terminals. These workers in Madagascar deserve the right to be recognised as the bona fide workforce by ICTSI. All workers employed in stevedoring activities need to be treated as direct employees. It’s time ICTSI stopped taking shortcuts on these workers’ lives, on their families’ lives.

“The ITF stands in solidarity with COSATU and SATAWU with a clear message for the Madagascan government – the Malagasy 43 must go back to work. The Madagascan Government can solve this problem right now by showing real leadership and stopping this exploitation. The government should enforce its own labour laws and abide by international labour conventions. They must reinstate the Malagasy 43 immediately and allow SYGMMA [the local union] to organise for all workers at the Port of Toamasina.”

Already this ITF campaign has seen protests at the far flung embassies of such places as Sydney, Washington, Brussels, Rotterdam, Paris, Istanbul and Helsinki and the strength of feeling closer to home can be felt in the comments of Edga Mbina Mbina, SATAWU Provincial Secretary, who said:

“South African unions stand shoulder to shoulder with these Madagascan dock workers. The Madagascan Government must ensure that they are reinstated, and that their right to join a union to fight for decent work is recognised and respected. Democratic countries respect workers’ rights – this is not what we are seeing in Madagascar."

Source: Handy Shipping Guide