The EFTA Court evaluates the Norwegian Port Case regarding Stevedoring Monopoly

In Norway, as in many other jurisdictions, unloading and loading of ships (stevedoring) in public ports is carried out by one single office at each port. The offices are often established in cooperation with a trade union. All operators at the ports are obliged to use stevedores from the office when loading and unloading the ships arriving at the port. The prices of the services are fixed and non-negotiable. The stevedoring office also unilateral decides the number of stevedores which are needed for each operation. At what time the ships are loaded or unloaded depends on the capacity of the office at all times, and it is not unusual for it to take up to 24 hours before the stevedores are available to complete the job. 

The stevedoring monopoly is based on a priority requirement for what is called “registered stevedores” under a collective agreement between the main employers association in Norway (NHO) and the main trade union (LO). The Transport Workers Union, a subdivision of LO, arranges boycotts and blockades (picketing-lines) against businesses which don’t accept the priority rule under the collective agreement.

Kvale law firm’s client, the Danish owned company Holship ( protested against the system of monopoly in Drammen port (outside of Oslo). Holship started to perform the stevedoring operations themselves, using their own employees. The company is bound by a collective agreement with the main union in Norway, but not with the Transport Workers Union. Consequently, they have been boycotted and under extensive blockades both before and after the case was brought into court in June 2013. So far, the District Court and the Court of Appeal judged that it was legal to perform collective actions against Holship, based on old jurisprudence.

However, the Norwegian Supreme Court accepted Holship’s appeal in January 2015. They sent the case to the EFTA court in Luxembourg, in order to get a full assessment of the EU (EEA) and competition law aspects of the case. The oral hearing in the EFTA Court is set to November 11th this year.

Already, the European Commission has given its written assessment of the case. They conclude that the Norwegian Ports Stevedoring System contradicts both with competition law and the basic right of free establishment for businesses. Read the Commission’s observations here. The observations from ESA and the Norwegian Government can be found here and here.

The case might convert how public ports are organized in both Norway and other countries. If the EFTA court joins the opinion of the European Commission, this case might result in more competition and efficiency in the ports. 

The Norwegian Dock Case, The EFTA Corts Report.