The bill to ensure the rights of commercial port employees will be submitted in Parliament within the next few weeks, Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis told the prime minister yesterday during their meeting. Voulgarakis informed Costas Karamanlis that there has been interest expressed by all major international port management companies in the privatization of the service section of the Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports. «We are within our original plans and targets. We can therefore develop our project for the Greek port industry as the process is advancing very well,» the minister said. At the same time, employees are escalating their industrial action. They have decided to stage a 24-hour strike on March 5 and to abstain from overtime and weekend work for all of March. Market sources argue that this will create even more problems for the already diminished competitiveness of Greece’s two main ports. Preliminary estimates by the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) suggest that the company has already lost some -15 million since the start of the strike in early January, while traffic at the container and vehicle stations has fallen by 80 percent and 50 percent respectively. OLP is also contemplating resorting to justice in order to «safeguard the company’s finances as well as the interests of its shareholders.» Already as of last week, the major forwarding companies have applied a surcharge of $50-$200 per container destined for Greek ports; if industrial action continues, there are fears not only that the existing surcharge will increase, but also that the companies may take the country’s ports off their routes. European Commissioner of Transport Jacques Barrot commented on the government’s decision to privatize the ports, saying it could increase competitiveness as it reduces entry obstacles and bolsters competition among ports. He said tenders for the concession of port services have been common in most EU continental ports, such as those in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Bremen.