(Adds details, comments by Public Works minister)
By Inmaculada Sanz
MADRID, March 16 Spanish opposition parties
voted down a government decree aimed at reforming restrictive
labour practices at the country's ports, marking a setback for
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he tries to find allies in a
It is the first time a so-called royal decree has been
rejected in parliament since the late 1970s.
Rajoy was re-instated for a second term last October but
with the smallest parliamentary minority in Spain's modern
history. As a result he is forced to seek support from rivals
every time he wants to pass legislation.
His cabinet passed the draft ports law in February, after
Spain raked up at least 21 million euros ($22.5 million) in
European Union fines since 2014 for failing to crack down on
closed-shop hiring among dockers.
"The loss is not just for us, but all Spaniards who will
have to pay the fine," Public Works Minister Inigo de la Serna
said in parliament following the vote.
With 350 votes cast in total, the bill was rejected after
175 voted against the decree, 142 were in favour while there was
The decree caused an uproar among unions who called several
days of strikes and urged the government to sit down and
negotiate the reform rather than rush it through.
They said they would be willing to meet with the government
and business representatives to discuss changes to the proposal
following the vote.
Several opposition parties, including the centre-left
Socialists and anti-austerity Podemos ("We Can"), voted against
the decree on Thursday.
The Centrists Ciudadanos ("Citizens") - the fourth largest
force in parliament and a party that is working in tandem with
Rajoy's conservative People's Party (PP) on some policies -
abstained in the vote.
The European Commission, which had suspended fines when it
appeared the Spanish government was nearing a reform, has
suggested these might restart if the bill did not progress
Dockers unions said that they had cancelled all planned
strikes following the vote.
Around two-thirds of Spain's imports and exports - a major
part of Spanish economic base - pass through its ports and
prolonged industrial action would be especially painful for the
automobile industry and chemical sector.
($1 = 0.9328 euros)
(Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Paul Day and Pritha Sarkar)