Dockers resume strike action

Greek port workers walked off the job for the second time this week yesterday, stopping cargo ships from unloading and forcing some to dock at other European ports. The dockers oppose government plans to sell stakes in the country’s two major ports to strategic investors to raise funds to pay down public debt and bolster investment in the facilities. The 24-hour strike by workers at state-controlled Piraeus (OLP) and Thessaloniki (OLTH) ports halted commercial operations. Dockers have stopped working overtime since last week. «Loading operations have stopped. The effects on goods distribution across the country will become obvious in the coming weeks,» said Giorgos Nouhoutidis, head of Piraeus port’s employees union. «Cargo ships that were supposed to dock at Piraeus are now turning to other ports in Italy or Spain,» he said. Officials at Greece’s Merchant Marine Ministry downplayed the impact of the strike so far but with a two-day strike planned for next week, the situation may worsen. The ports of Piraeus, near Athens, and Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, have current market values of 716 million euros and 360 million euros, respectively. Each is more than 70 percent state-owned. The government has not yet spelled out the size of the stakes it intends to sell but the divestments are part of its 2008 privatization agenda which targets proceeds of 1.6 billion euros. China’s COSCO Pacific, the world’s second-largest shipping company, has shown interest in investing in Greek ports to take advantage of economic growth in Southeast Europe. Greece, with two of the Mediterranean’s largest ports at the southern tip of the Balkans, wants to bolster investment in the sector as the ports are well placed to grow into regional hubs if infrastructure improves. «OLP and OLTH may be profitable listed companies, but they operate as state companies, which means they lack the ability to move quickly in business and take initiatives,» Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said earlier this week. (Reuters)