230 dockworker candidates condemn their exclusion from the biggest port in Spain
There are over 200 candidates who have the same objective: to become dockworkers. They are students, truck drivers, electricians, mechanics or unemployed and they come from the seven municipalities in Campo de Gibraltar, a metropolitan area surrounding the Bay of Algeciras (Cádiz) which concentrates a great part of its economic activity in the port of Algeciras. After forming an association, they intend to enter a sector so far “closed” to women: the stowage sector.
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The port of Algeciras, the biggest in Spain, has a staff of 1,879 dockworkers (1,522 permanent and 357 temporary). They are all men. The dockworkers managereal iron giants, which, at over 50 meters high, move several-ton containers with which they work on the deck of ships which can transport over 18,000 crates. This makes the profession a high-risk job, which does not prevent about 230 women from deciding to try to train as dockworkers in the port of Algeciras, the only port in Spain where they do not have a place in the sector.
Raquel Saavedra, a crew member on one of the ships of Balearia, which makes the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, thought that there were no women dockworkers in any Spanish ports. But one day she learnt that this wasn’t so, and in November 2014 decided to create a Facebook profile to fight for equality in the sector.
That was the seed of the Platform for Women Dockworkers of Algeciras. “Our only intention is to make our claim public, which is to be able to perform loading and unloading works just like men”, states María José Corrales, an employee of a company that transports containers between the terminals of the port of Algeciras. She wants to be a dockworker and she tried last summer, when the latest group of temporary workers entered the staff. “There were five of us who were women and the works council refused to let us in,” she says.
María de los Ángeles Zucilla is another woman who wants to be a dockworker. She is 38 years old and has been unloading trucks of goods in a major retail outlet for 12 years. “Men and women do not have the same strength, but if we have to drive a truck, we can do it and if we have to work at heights, we can do that too”, she claims.
Those who have been working in this sector for years have no objections to women colleagues. The regional coordinator of the main trade union in the sector, the National Coordination of dockworkers, Manuel Cabello, states that there have been women in Spanish ports for ten years, although he claims that the port of Algeciras is “special”. He insists that his union is not opposed to dockworker women “if they prove, jus as the men do, that they have the capacity”.
Why is Algeciras “special”? “The dockworkers here secure the containers on the ships; in other ports that is a dangerous maneuver carried out by the crews in the ships,” says Cabello. The “securing” of containers is an activity every worker has to do when they become a member of the staff in the port of Algeciras. It is “the first step” and, according to Cabello, that requires “a very special physical profile”. But the only formal requirement to access this sector is intermediate vocational training and a license to drive trucks, two requirements met by many women who aspire to equality in the port of Algeciras.