Piraeus port workers announce 48 hour strike over workplace safety after death of colleague


Piraeus port workers have announced another strike following the workplace death of a colleague, demanding an investigation into his death and for better workplace safety conditions.

Specifically, employees at Piers II and III in Piraeus port will begin their 48-hour strike today Friday with ENEDEP, the union representing workers handling containers at Piraeus port, stressed in an announcement that it will fight a hard battle to prevent more deaths and injuries and that it will not back down until the workers' demands are met. It also called workers to the port at 13:30 on Friday to guard the strike.

Apart from an investigation into the causes of the accident that killed one of the union's members, it is also demanding the creation of a health and safety committee, an end to back-to-back shifts (two full shifts with just eight hours rest in between), as well as of 12-hour shifts and the signing of a collective labour agreement, among others.

The Union of Piraeus Port Dock Workers will also participate in the rally, with the union noting that the recent accident "has highlighted in the most tragic way the shortcomings in health and safety issues."

The Port of Piraeus is the chief sea port of Athens, Greece, located on the Saronic Gulf on the western coasts of the Aegean Sea, the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in Europe.

The Port of Piraeus served as the port of Athens since ancient times.  Until the 3rd millennium BC, Piraeus was a rocky island connected to the mainland by a low-lying stretch of land that was flooded with sea water most of the year. It was then that the area was increasingly silted and flooding ceased, thus permanently connecting Piraeus to Attica and forming its ports, the main port of Cantharus and the two smaller of Zea and Munichia. In 493 BC, Themistocles initiated the fortifications of Piraeus and later advised the Athenians to take advantage of its natural harbours' strategic potential. In 483 BC, the Athenian fleet left the older harbour of Phaleron and it was transferred to Piraeus, distinguishing itself at the battle of Salamis between the Greek city-states and the Persians in 480 BC. In the following years Themistocles initiated the construction of the port and created the ship sheds (neosoikoi), while the Themistoclean Walls were completed in 471 BC, turning Piraeus into a great military and commercial harbour, which served as the permanent navy base for the mighty Athenian fleet.

In 2002 PPA and the Greek government signed a concession agreement. The Greek government leased the port zone lands, buildings and facilities of Piraeus Port to PPA for 40 years. In 2008 the duration of the concession agreement was modified from 40 to 50 years. With this modification the lease is ending in 2052. Since the Greek government-debt crisis started in late 2009 the Greek government planned to privatize several state-owned assets. These assets are believed to be worth around 50 billion euros. One of these assets is the port of Piraeus. The Port is a major employer in the region.

The Port of Piraeus is majority owned by China COSCO Shipping  (the successor of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO)), the 3rd largest container ship company in the world. In 2003 the port had its IPO, after which the Port was Majority owned by the Greek State (74.5%), while the rest was held by investors.

In 2009, Greece leased the land of dock 2 and what would become dock 3 (both container berths)[citation needed] to COSCO's subsidiary COSCO Pacific for 35 years. COSCO paid 100 million Euros each year as part of this arrangement.[citation needed]

"The port's geographic advantages and the quality services offered by us, have helped deliver rapid progress, in a crisis era" said Fu Chengqiu, managing director of Piraeus Container Terminal in 2012. With COSCO's investment, the port had broken their 2006 record of 1.5 million TEUs handled by 2011, with dock 2 (COSCO) handling 1.18 million TEUs and Dock 1 (Greek) handling 500,000 TEUs. In 2009 the financial crisis had brought the TEU volume down to 450,000 for the whole port.

In 2014 The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), the Greek government's privatization agency, sought to sell a majority stake of the port to finance debt. In 2016, COSCO bought 51% of the port from the HRADF for 280.5 million Euros. As per an escrow, COSCO will pay 88 million more Euros for an additional 16% stake by 2021, contingent on COSCO making certain investments in the port, including passenger and cruise expansions, dredging, and expansion of the car terminal.

As of 2020, the Port of Piraeus is majority owned by COSCO with 67% of shares (16% in escrow shares). The HRADF has 7.14% of shares.[13] The rest (25.86%) is held by non-institutional investors. In October of 2021, the HRADF tranferred the 16% escrow shares to COSCO. COSCO paid 88 million euros for it, and 11.87 million euros in accrued interest as well as a letter of guarantee of 29 million euros.

In October 2009 Greece leased docks 2 and 3 from PPA to the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (in short: COSCO) for a 35-year-period. For its presence at the port COSCO is paying 100 million euros every year. Terminal 1 is operated by PPA S.A. and has a capacity of nearly 1 million TEUs. Terminal 2's capacity is 3 million TEUs and is run by Piraeus Container Terminal PCT S.A., a subsidiary of COSCO. In 2013, PCT finished the construction of Terminal 3 with a capacity of roughly 2.7 million TEU. The total port capacity is 6.7 m TEUs. COSCO's involvement was accompanied by protest. According to trade unionists of PPA, the arrival of COSCO led to reductions in salary and social benefits, exclusion of union members and increased pressures on time and performance. According to an interview in 2012 with Harilaos N. Psaraftis, a professor of maritime transport in Athens, in some cases the salaries of workers were $181,000 a year with overtime. Due to union rules a team of nine people was required to work a gantry crane. COSCO pays around $23,300 and only requires four people at a crane.

Economic performance of container handling has greatly improved since 2009. Before COSCO took over, the port's container handling record was at 1.5 million TEUs. These figures rose to 3.692 million containers in 2017. As a result, revenue and profits soared. In 2017 the Athens stock exchange listed company (OLP) almost doubled its pre-tax profits from 11 to 21.2 million euros.