Ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge one step closer to ‘merger of the century’

The planned merger between the Flemish ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp is almost complete. On Friday, the new port authority reached a social agreement with the Zeebrugge trade unions. On Monday evening the merger will be finally approved in ‘decisive municipal councils’. The ‘merger of the century’ was supposed to have been completed by the end of 2021, but had to be postponed.

The Port of Antwerp, now already the second-largest container port in Europe, can soon finalise its merger with the West Flemish port of Zeebrugge. Mayor of Bruges (which encompasses the town of Zeebrugge) and port chairman Dirk De Fauw says a “unanimous agreement for the future of the staff” has been reached with the three major trade unions.

Certain job titles proved a sensitive issue during the negotiations, but everyone is now “guaranteed a job, a place to work and continued income” once they transfer to the merged company. Those who transfer will receive additional social benefits such as group insurance.

"Some titles of ‘director’, for example, will be exchanged for ‘deputy’. This is a sensitive issue”

However, these guarantees do not mean that everyone can keep the exact same job title. “As a result of the transfer from Zeebrugge to Antwerp, some titles of ‘director’, for example, will be exchanged for ‘deputy’. This is a sensitive issue”, explains De Fauw.

The HR aspect was just about the last part in aligning all the processes and systems so that everything remains up and running at the end of April. “One big task, for example, was to transfer the ownership of three thousand lots of land”, says Zeebrugge port CEO Tom Hautekiet. The most recent round of HR negotiations led to “rather intense discussions with the trade unions” and the implementation of the reached agreements will not be easy, Hautekiet adds. “Besides the numbers, there is an emotional aspect to it for many people.”


Photo © BELGA: Illustration picture shows containers on an aerial view of the Antwerp harbour


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