Record fall in box volumes at Port of Gothenburg

1/18/2018

The unresolved labour dispute continues to weigh heavily on container traffic at Sweden’s Port of Gothenburg, which has reported its biggest-ever decline in full-year container volumes.

With a fall of 19% compared with the previous year to 644,000 teu, 2017 “went down in history as the worst year ever for container volumes at the Port of Gothenburg”, Scandinavia’s largest port acknowledged – despite good, and in some cases record-breaking, performances in other sectors.

“This is a downturn that we have never been close to at any point in the history of the port, and it took place in a year when container trade globally had increased,” said Magnus Kårestedt, Port of Gothenburg chief executive. “It is difficult to put into words the seriousness of the situation.”

The long-running labour dispute between the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union (SDU) and the terminal operator APM Terminals Gothenburg had impacted in part on volumes for 2016, although the repercussions were greatest in 2017.

Kårestedt explained: “We had hoped for a recovery towards the end of the year in the absence of any industrial action since last summer. But this was not the case. The message from the freight owners is loud and clear – the constant threat of industrial action hanging over the container terminal means they will not be returning without a long-term solution that will ensure reliable freight handling over time.”

That long-term solution still looks elusive, although the SDU on Monday faced APMT Gothenburg in a courtroom for the first time since the labour dispute began in 2016. SDU is suing APM Terminals at the Labour Court in Stockholm, among other things, because it claims the company has been attempting to force concessions from the SDU by unlawful means, including “threatening and then retroactively withdrawing the chairman’s salary”, and “the unlawful handling of a large number of employees’ salary deductions”. 

The union claimed that before Christmas, APM Terminals had found various ways to limit on the ability of the SDU chairman “to enter his workplace, talk with the members, and manage his assignment”, including invalidating his workplace pass card.

SDU federal chairman Eskil Rönér said: “The harassment of our members and elected representatives at APM Terminals has continued and escalated, so it will be good for this process to be started now.”

The SDU is demanding a separate collective bargaining agreement to the one APM Terminals agreed under its 25-year concession for Gothenburg’s box terminal — one to which all ports in Sweden are legally bound under an agreement between the ports and the Swedish Transport Workers' Union. APM Terminals says that a separate bargaining agreement would be in breach of the collective agreement already in force.

The SDU has rejected several proposals to resolve the row put forward by the appointed mediator, National Swedish Mediation Institute, that had been accepted by APMT Gothenburg. That has led APMT Gothenburg chief executive Henrik Kristensen to call for government intervention to solve the long-running dispute. 

Meanwhile, despite the fall in container volumes last year, overall volumes at the Port of Gothenburg in 2017 remained on a par with 2016.

“This can be attributed largely to the record number of cars that have been shipped via the port, coupled with solid figures at our ro-ro terminals,” said Kårestedt.

During 2017, 295,000 new cars passed through the port – a rise of 20% compared with the previous year, and the highest figure since the financial crisis of 2008. A strong underlying factor was the continued export success of Volvo Cars, the port said

Ro-ro freight also rose for the third year in succession, with 593,000 ro-ro units transported – up 10% on 2016.

Some 24 million tonnes of oil and energy products were also handled during 2017, a fall of 1% compared with the record-breaking year of 2016. If it were not for a planned maintenance stoppage at one of the port’s refineries, the all-time high noted in 2016 would have been surpassed, the Port of Gothenburg said.