Port troubles resurface

Greek dockworkers staged a 24-hour strike yesterday, which stopped ships loading and unloading, and threatened more action by the end of the month in protest against government plans to privatize the country’s largest commercial ports. Greece has said it plans to sell off stakes in its major ports to strategic investors to bolster port investment, develop container business and make Greece a regional shipping hub. Employees at state-controlled Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports plan to continue with more strikes in coming weeks, their unions said. They will stage a 24-hour strike again this Friday, a 48-hour stoppage on January 15 and 16 and abstain from overtime work on weekends until the end of the month. Cargo ships will dock at the ports but will not be allowed to load or unload. «Cargo ships will have to find alternative ports to dock, probably other Mediterranean ports. Merchants will not receive goods on time and these delays will certainly affect the market,» said Giorgos Nouhoutidis, head of the Piraeus port employees’ union. «It is our permanent demand that the container ports not be ceded to private operators and that they be developed by their respective authorities themselves,» said Giorgos Georgakopoulos, president of the nationwide union OMYLE. For its part, the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP), in a legal notice to OMYLE dated January 4, called for a suspension of planned industrial action, arguing that labor rights would not be affected in the least. It also warned that the strikes would cause considerable financial losses to OLP, port users and the economy in general, and was foreign to established union practices. Port users told Kathimerini the main problem likely to result from escalated strike action is that suppliers would impose surcharges which would then be passed on to the consumer. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis is expected to continue briefings of opposition parties and Piraeus municipal authorities on the government’s plans for the ports. The ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki have a current market value of -769.50 million and -370.94 million respectively. Exporters The Panhellenic Exporters’ Association (PSE) said in a statement that its members would be crippled by a repetition of the two-month-long stoppages in the country’s container ports over the same issue that started late in 2006. Those strikes «hit hard not just the financial results of a wide range of enterprises but also the country’s export performance, as shown by a detailed analysis of official trade statistics for the January-October 2007 period,» said the PSE. A rising trend in exports in the previous two years slowed considerably and more strike action would cause a further deterioration in the country’s competitiveness, it added. (Kathimerini, Reuters)