Greek dockworkers walk out over port selloffs

16 February 2016
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Greek dockworkers began a two-day strike on Tuesday to protest against the sale of the country’s two biggest ports, which Athens has promised to international lenders, disrupting operations at cargo terminals.

Privatisations, a key feature of Greek bailouts since 2010, have generated only 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) so far against an initial target of 50 billion euros in the face of resistance from politicians and unions as well as bureaucratic snags.

The plans to sell the ports, stalled when a leftist government took power early last year, was reactivated after Athens signed up to a third bailout of up to 86 billion euros last summer. Greece last month named China’s Cosco as the highest bidder for a 67 percent stake in its biggest port, Piraeus (OLP).

But the sale is strongly opposed by port workers who fear job cuts and higher export cost for Greek products. About 500 dockworkers gathered on Tuesday outside the entrance of Piraeus port’s sole cargo pier in Athens to protest against the plan.

“I am worried that I will lose my job. Why would the new owner keep me and not hire two younger employees who will be paid half the money I get?,” said Vassilis Argyris, 56, a dockworker.

The government has said it is not selling off the port but just leasing its facilities for 40 years and that the deal will bring in significant benefits for the state.

Athens has also put up for grabs a 67 percent stake in Thessaloniki Port Authority, which operates the country’s second largest port in the north of the country.

Eight groups, including Denmark’s container terminal operator APM Terminals, Phillipines-based ICTS , Tokyo-based Mitsui & Co and U.K.-based P&O Steam Navigation Company (DP World), had been shorlisted for the port in 2014.

The process has gained fresh momentum after Greece pushed ahead with the Piraeus port deal, a person familiar with the privatisation told Reuters, adding that there would be presentations and site visits for prospective investors in the next two months.

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