Port strike weighs on new minister

Pressure is mounting on Economy, Competitiveness and Merchant Marine Minister Louka Katseli to quickly end a strike by stevedores at Piraeus Port (OLP), which is entering its third week. The action is costing the country an estimated 3 million euros per day as thousands of shipping containers pile up at the port or are kept from even reaching Greece’s shores. Katseli’s suspected inability to be an effective mediator between the strikers and the port’s management has begun to concern a number of people in the PASOK government. The dockworkers are protesting a 35-year concession agreement awarded by the previous conservative agreement to China’s Cosco, fearing that employees will lose their jobs. Katseli has spoken to both sides and yesterday met with a group of Piraeus MPs to discuss ways of ending the strike. However, PASOK finds itself in a bind as it had suggested in the election campaign that it would review the Cosco deal and could try to renegotiate some parts of the contract. The dockworkers are now pressing the government to keep its word and get a better deal for them. Cosco was scheduled to take over OLP’s cargo management services on October 1 but the port has been shut since the start of the month. Katseli does not appear to have made any headway in finding common ground between the two sides and PASOK sources were yesterday suggesting that she was not doing enough to make it clear to the stevedores that the port has to reopen. The government denied that it is considering appointing someone else to conduct the negotiations. Cosco sources told Kathimerini that representatives of the Chinese firm, which is not willing to renegotiate the contract, have only met once, last Friday, with Katseli. They also suggested that if the strike continues, the firm will consider taking legal action and seek compensation.