Spain's cabinet passed a draft law on Friday to end closed-shop hiring at the country's ports, putting the government on a collision course with unions which have called nine days of strikes that are likely to decimate trade flows.
Around two-thirds of Spain's imports and exports pass through its ports, and prolonged industrial action could be especially painful for the country's automobile industry and chemical sector
The bill, which attempts to bring Spain's restrictive port labour practices into line with the rest of Europe
, still faces an uncertain passage through parliament.
The governing People's Party does not enjoy a parliamentary majority and will need to reach an accord with opposition parties if the draft is to become law.
Companies currently have no say over hiring and firing at Spanish ports. The new law aims to permit them to chose their own staff rather than being bound by union-approved lists.
"This is the only economic sector where there isn't free hiring in our country," Industry Minister Inigo de la Serna said on Friday after a weekly cabinet meeting.
"We're convinced we are going to reach an agreement on this matter with the unions as soon as possible, if there is willingness on their part to do so."
Spain has already paid 21.5 million euros ($22.8 million) in fines since 2014 for failing to bring port labour practices in line with EU norms, de la Serna said on Friday. If the new law is not implemented soon, the fine would rise to more than 134,000 euros a day, he said.
The dockers' unions are planning to strike for 12 hours a day, every other day barring weekends, from March 6 to March 24, a system they say will allow urgent cargo to be processed.
Reporting by Paul Day