Cyprus Mail

Limassol port pilots to strike to prevent Dubai Ports from hiring foreigners (Update 1: adds ministry)

The six pilots employed by the Cyprus Ports Authority will launch an indefinite strike on Monday in an attempt to prevent the appointment of non-Cypriot pilots by Dubai Ports World, winner of the tenders for the commercialisation of marine services at the Limassol port, the head of a union said.

The pilots expect that Dubai Ports, which won the tenders for the operation of the general cargo and marine services at the Limassol port, will hire them after it takes over from the Cyprus Ports Authority in January, Demetris Patsalos, chairman of the independent union of Cyprus Ports Authority workers, said. He added that Dubai Ports is currently seeking to hire pilots from abroad.

And this after the pilots benefit from a voluntary retirement scheme offered by the government, he added.

The G.A.P. Vassilopoulos Group, partner of Dubai Ports, is currently advertising vacancies for “skilled Greek and English speaking” marine pilots, tug masters, tug engineers, pilot boat skippers on its website.

“There is a decision of the council of ministers from September 2011 which provides that for security reasons, the general manager of the Cyprus Ports Authority, the harbour master and the pilots have to be Cypriots,” Patsalos said in a telephone interview on Friday. “This is common practice across Europe. In Italy, they employ Italian pilots, in Greece Greeks, in Romania Romanians”.

In April, Dubai Ports and Germany’s EuroGage, which won the tender for the container service, signed commercialisation agreements with the government, which expects a total of €1.9bn in revenue over the next 25 years. The commercialisation of the Limassol port’s operations became possible after it overcame strong opposition from labour unions which repeatedly took prolonged industrial action, paralyzing Cyprus’s major commercial port and hurting the economy.

In an emailed statement, the union headed by Patsalos said that the decision to strike “was the outcome of the persistence of Transport Minister (Marios Demetriades) not to implement promises he gave in writing to the pilots.”

Demetriades’s refusal to do so “leaves our members vulnerable.” At the same time, he said, the minister tells the marine services contractors that he is even prepared to change Cyprus Ports Authority decrees and cabinet decisions, taken to protect the state’s general interest, the statement said.

“The honourable transport minister can and must act in a way to avert serious problems that will affect the ports’ smooth operation, as well as the impact on the economy, by delivering what he promised in writing and stressing to the marine services operators their obligation of finding solutions which are compatible with the laws of the Republic of Cyprus and the regulations of the Cyprus Ports Authority”.

The transport minister was not immediately available for comment. In a letter to the union dated January 15, Demetriades said that the ministry had no intention of initiating the change of the legislation concerning the nationality of pilots and reiterated the ministry’s intention to mediate between the pilots and the successful bidder.

“However, should this, despite our efforts, not be possible, we cannot reject signing the contract because this would automatically constitute a violation of the terms of the tender and cause a conflict between the ministry and the successful bidder who may surely demand compensation,” the minister said in his letter.

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