Cosco employees have gone on a 24-hour strike after an accident at a container pier in Piraeus port cost the life of a 45-year-old worker. The worker had just finished his shift and returned to pick some personal belongings when he was fatally hit by the container crane. The investigations are currently underway.
Following pressure by creditors for privatisations in terms of Greece’s bailout programme, 51% of Piraeus port was sold to Cosco in 2016 – a state-owned Chinese shipping and logistics services supplier. On Tuesday, the company acquired another 16% shares of Piraeus Port Authority and now controls 67% of one of the largest ports in Europe. However, port workers and the opposition have long complained about harsh working conditions that cause employees long-term fatigue, occupational diseases and accidents.
Workers at Cosco remain on standby and are called a few hours before the shift, depending on ships’ arrivals. This means that sometimes they do double shifts with a break of only a few hours and then return, tired to a challenging job – the leading cause of accidents according to the workers. Additionally, the employees’ union says the company hires staff with inadequate training resulting in increased risks of daily accidents. To reduce costs, many operators rely on untrained, casual labour, and sometimes even seafarers to handle the cargo.
According to leftist Syriza party’s statement: ‘subcontracting and precarious employment relations allow employers to blackmail employees and, with the fear of dismissal, impose miserable conditions’. The opposition accuses the government of having abolished the co-responsibility of the company and the contractors it selects to implement projects. Cosco, therefore, remains out of the picture and the responsibility for accidents is limited to the contracting companies.
But questions have also arisen about environmental credentials. The 2016 agreement stipulated that the company would receive the additional share only if it completed investments in the port worth €290 million by August 2021. Although most investments remained unfinished or suspended, Cosco still received the additional share as the 2016 deal was amended. The Chinese blame Greek bureaucracy and the residents’ resistance, but local authorities and environmental NGOs say otherwise: Cosco does not comply with environmental protocols and harms the marine environment.
‘The communication fiesta for the transfer of 16% of the shares raises concerns about the investment climate in the country creating third-world conditions, according to which the investor imposes what he wants on the state’, concluded Syriza lawmaker Nektarios Santorinios.
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