Breaching EU rules on freedom of establishment enshrined in Article 49 of the Treaty
In June 2013, the European Commission decided to refer Spain to the EU Court of Justice over its rules on hiring port labour in several Spanish ports. On 11 December 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) confirmed that Spain has breached EU rules on freedom of establishment enshrined in Article 49 of the Treaty the EU.
Spanish law pestablishes that private companies called SAGEPs (Sociedad Anónima de Gestión de Estibadores Portuarios) should be set up in ports of general interest. SAGEPs are in charge of recruiting dockers and putting them at the disposal of cargo-handlers. These rules are applicable to the largest Spanish ports, including the ports of Barcelona, Algeciras, Valencia and Bilbao.
The same law obliges all companies wishing to provide cargo-handling services to join, and financially participate towards the capital of, a SAGEP. Cargo-handling companies can be exempted from this obligation only in very marginal cases. Moreover, the cargo-handling company has to rely on workers recruited and put at its disposal by the SAGEP. Only if the dockers proposed by the SAGEP are not sufficient or not suitable, may the cargo-handling companies freely recruit workers from the market, but even then only for one working shift.
The ECJ stated that the obligation for companies to register to SAGEP, contribute to its capital and give hiring priority to SAGEP workers is against the principle of freedom of establishment enshrined in Article 49 of the Treaty the EU.