ECONOMY

Piraeus port workers agree to suspend go-slow action

The agreement between the management of Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) and stevedores which ended the latter’s eight-week refusal to work overtime and on weekends makes market experts hopeful that a semblance of normality will return to the operations of Greece’s biggest commercial port. The OLP management and dockworkers met yesterday at the Merchant Marine Ministry, with Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis attending the meeting. They agreed that a dialogue over the privatization of part of the port’s services, especially the container terminals, will be conducted until April 30, at the latest. During this period, the government and OLP management are to refrain from any talks with potential buyers. The dockers’ unions were meeting late last night to ratify the agreement. The dockers – denounced a few weeks previously by Kefaloyiannis as privileged and exorbitantly paid – fiercely oppose privatization. Losses During the eight weeks of go-slow action, OLP lost an estimated -12 million, or -1.5 million per week. At least 120 ships were either forced to sail away without discharging their cargoes or were redirected to other, mostly foreign, ports, before they reached Piraeus. Compared with normal port activity, there were 120,000 fewer containers handled, a decrease of more than 45 percent. Shipments of 20,000 new cars were also redirected to other ports. Many other products, especially perishable goods, were not handled in a timely fashion, creating shortages on the market. Export firms were hit especially hard. However, the biggest blow the Piraeus port took was to its reputation, as several big cargo companies either terminated their business in the port or imposed surcharges due to the increased risks over the past eight weeks. This hurt the port’s competitiveness at a time when the government wanted to use Greek ports to attract direct foreign investment. (Piraeus is among the 10 largest ports in Europe with the most container traffic in the eastern Mediterranean. Two of the port’s major customers, Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company SA and Israel’s Zim shipping, have both said they would cut back operations at Piraeus because of the labor action.) Both the OLP management and the dockers’ unions have committed themselves to present studies outlining their different strategies for the port’s development. The dialogue will also include issues such as maintaining jobs and social security benefits, incentives for early retirement and the participation of employees in the capital of both Piraeus and Thessaloniki port authorities as shareholders by giving out free shares and a combination of tax and other financial incentives.