The nature of port work, like other sectors, is currently evolving due to market forces and technological development.
The members (trade unions and employers) of the Sectoral Social Dialogue for Ports Committee are currently discussing these changes in the sector and should continue to receive support, as the appropriate European body for discussions on training related topics.
Continuous upgrading of equipment as well as the introduction of environmentally friendly measures imply the provision of adequate training to achieve successful results.
European seaport terminals have developed profoundly over the past fifty years. The container has been introduced as a new means of transport. There has been an ongoing improvement of equipment and a steady mechanisation. Digitization has found its way to the ports and IT systems have been introduced. The traditional image of the port is no longer valid.
In the past, ports were mostly general cargo terminals where unloading and loading of the non-standarised units took place out of the hold of a vessel onto the quay, a task that involved a lot of manual handling. This was extremely time-consuming and physically demanding for port workers.
Ports of today consist of variety of terminals: container, dry bulk, liquid bulk, Ro-Ro. These terminals are operated with modern equipment, mechanized transport systems and digitised control systems. Today’s general cargo terminals are specialised terminals for extraordinary cargo which still involves a lot of manual handling done by specialised labour. However, the vast majority of cargo arrives in Europe via specialized terminals. This cargo is moved by specialised handling equipment which ensures that port work is carried out in an efficient and safe manner.
With this development, the nature of port work has changed greatly. The emphasis is no longer on strength but rather on skill. For this reason, the modern day port worker is a highly trained individual that operates complex machinery such as gantry cranes and straddle carriers, is a control room operator in regards to liquid bulk, operates conveyor belt systems and modern bulldozers in the dry bulk sector and inspection of goods are carried out with digital equipment. For this to be achieved, a significant amount of terminal operator’s labour costs go into ensuring that their employees are receiving training to a high standard. Although a lot of hazards have been removed from port work, it remains a risky sector where high training standards are essential to prevent accidents. However, thanks to the significant resources allocated to improving these standards, ports are becoming more efficient at handling cargo and safer places to work.
Training systems in European terminals are not established through a top down approach, but rather through dialogue between employers and employees – the people who are best placed to determine the training needs of the terminals or ports they work in. These vary depending on the Member State, as can be seen through the existence of national, regional and company training systems throughout the European Union. European training systems, regardless of how the system is established, have served as an example for the establishment of similar systems throughout the world.
Employers are primarily interested in having high training standards as these lead to greater efficiency and safety in European terminals. Safety is one of the key components of efficiency as it is impossible to operate an efficient service in which accidents are commonplace. Employers therefore look to ensure that training systems help reduce potential accident rates to a minimum and, in doing so, ensure their terminals continue to operate efficiently. Employers also invest millions of Euros in port equipment and seek to maximize their investment by ensuring that operations are performed safely and by highly skilled individuals.
As a European association, FEPORT is committed to promoting high training standards in European seaport terminals. Through the European social dialogue on ports, FEPORT, along with the other social partners, is working towards achieving this through common guidelines on training and qualifications in the European Union. Equally the social partners are looking to further address health & safety risks through good practices.