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Striking ports workers march to protest Greek ports sales

Port workers shout slogans during a demonstration against the privatisation of Greek ports, outside a hotel where an extraordinary general meeting of the Piraeus Port Authority S.A (OLP) takes place, in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2016

Greek port workers walked off the job for a sixth day on Tuesday and marched through central Athens to protest the state-sanctioned selloff of the country’s two largest ports, Piraeus and Thessaloniki.

Privatisations have been a pillar of a succession of international bailouts for Greece since 2010, but political resistance and bureaucracy has stymied the task. From an initial target of €50bn in revenue from asset sales, Greece has barely managed to scrape together €3bn.

Fearing layoffs, port workers have been on 48-hour rolling strikes since last week and have said they will not return to work unless their requests are addressed.

“Everything, taxes, bills, the living cost, is going up. Daily food has become more expensive. And myself, I don’t know if I have job tomorrow,” said port worker Antonis Peristerakis, 49, father of two children.

“I need security. I want to have food for my children. I don’t want to look for a job at the age of 49.”

Greece sealed last month the sale of a 67 per cent stake in Piraeus Port to shipping giant China COSCO for €368.5m.

Piraeus Port’s shareholders met on Tuesday to approve the 36-year concession between COSCO and the government. Some 200 port workers gathered outside a hotel building hosting the meeting to protest the sale.

The workers want COSCO to safeguard jobs for a minimum number of people, along with their current labour contracts, as part of the concession agreement. Piraeus port employs 1,100 people.

The strike is mainly disrupting cargo operations but Greece’s cruise ship-owners union has said that the walkout could also affect cruise ships docking in Piraeus.

Under the privatisation scheme, Athens is also selling a 67 per cent stake in Thessaloniki Port. Sources close to the process have said the binding bids are expected at the end of September.

Denmark’s container terminal operator APM Terminals, Phillipines-based International Container Terminal Services ICTS and Dubai-based P&O Steam Navigation Company (DP World) were strongly interested in the Thessaloniki port, the head of the privatisation agency said last month.

Greece aims at raising more than €2bn from divesting state assets this year to meet a bailout target of about €6bn from asset sales by 2018. The country has said it will use the proceeds to reduce its mountainous debt and boost growth through public investments.


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