ON WEDNESDAY the Limassol port pilots went on strike to underline their refusal to train six Dutch colleagues who were to assume their duties when the private investors take over the operation of the port next month. As a show of goodwill, the port pilots called off the strike by noon, saying they would wait until a meeting, scheduled for Friday, with the chairman of the House transport committee, who was supposedly drafting a bill stipulating that the navigation at ports would be carried out by Cypriots.
Perhaps press reports had missed something because any law, preventing the employment of EU citizens was gross violation of the European acquis. It could not even be claimed that the job of a port pilot is nationally sensitive and important to state security to justify barring non-Cypriots from doing it. Then again, political parties have always pandered to the unions and it would be no surprise if the Diko chairman of the committee had actually drafted a bill barring the employment of foreigners.
There had been strikes over the issue last summer, the head of the independent union of the Cyprus Ports Authority threatening to close down the port indefinitely if the ministry attempted to change the nationality clause in the law, prior to a private contractor taking over the port. The real scandal is that the six port pilots had received an obscenely high compensation package from the government so as to leave their jobs silently, but having taken the taxpayer’s money are now demanding that the contractor, Dubai Ports, hires them back.
Had they not taken the compensation, which was a redundancy payment, they may have had a point, but as things are, Dubai Ports has neither a moral nor a legal obligation to hire them. It can employ whoever it wants and its management would be letting down the company shareholders if it re-hired proven troublemakers, who regularly disrupted the operation of the ports over trivial issues and often resorted to blackmail. No company that has invested hundreds of millions in a business would want the business to be at the mercy of such workers, which is why Dubai Ports decided to hire Dutchmen as port pilots.
The company wants to make a fresh start and re-build the reputation of Limassol port which had been destroyed by the antics of the port unions over the years. The unions drove away business worth tens of millions of euros, by providing an unreliable and unreasonably priced service. Now that private contractors will take over the running of the port it is an opportunity to re-build its reputation and attract new business. The objective will never be achieved if the contractor is forced to keep the old guard on its payroll.